The Sign of The Cross:
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The Sign of the Cross:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

One of the revered Christian gestures in our prayer is the sign of the cross. It can be made without thinking or in a hurried or "short-cut" fashion, so it is good to reflect on some of what it signifies. By making the sign of the cross we show that we believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God. When we do so with holy water we are renewing our Baptismal commitment to imitate Jesus in His way of love and service. Some do this passing a Catholic church to honor Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  

Pope Benedict XVI has written, "whenever we make the sign of the cross, we accept our Baptism anew, We make the sign of the cross on ourselves and thus enter the power of the blessing of Jesus Christ. We make the sign over people to whom we wish a blessing. Through the cross, we can become sources of blessing for one another.

Recently I have noticed people coming out of Mass reaching for the holy water to make the sign of the cross as they leave. How appropriate! They had just heard the priest at Mass send them out with, "The Mass is ended. Go in peace to live and share the Gospel."

"Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor's sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor."
 -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 - 386
 
Self-described "Torah-true Jews" to this day wear tefillin ("phylacteries") on their foreheads and arms as a sign of their identity and devotion. This practice stems from Deuteronomy 6:4-8:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.

Compare those words with the words of St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. A.D. 386) 

Let us, therefore, not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, do thou openly seal it upon thy forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking, at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word, at every act. 

God speaking, through Ezechiel, to the remnant of Israel (and don't forget that the Church is "Israel"!), tells the faithful: 

 And the Lord said to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem: and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. (Ezechiel 9:4)

 

 Crossing one's self is good public witness! Do not be ashamed of it! To be ashamed of the sign of His Cross is to be ashamed of Him! 
  

The Catholic Sign of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old Testament but the New (Apocalypse speaks of those who have the sign of God in their foreheads -- and those who have the sign of the Beast in their foreheads). When Catholics undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop (sometimes a priest) seals the sign on our foreheads with holy chrism. St. John of Damascus wrote

This was given to us as a sign on our forehead, just as the circumcision was given to Israel: for by it we believers are separated and distinguished from unbelievers.

 

 Vocabulary

 to "cross oneself," "sign oneself," "bless oneself," or "make the sign of the cross" all mean the same thing
 
 

 Crossing one's self recalls this seal, and the invocation that is said while making this holy sign calls on our God -- the Father, His Son, and the Holy Ghost -- and is a sign of our of belief; it is both a "mini-creed" that asserts our belief in the Triune God, and a prayer that invokes Him. The use of holy water when making this sign, such as we do when we enter a church, also recalls our Baptism and should bring to mind that we are born again of water and Spirit, thanks be to God.

 Because of what the Sign indicates -- the very Cross of our salvation -- Satan hates it, and our using it makes demons flee. Make the Sign in times of temptation and confusion for great spiritual benefit!

 The Sign of the Cross is made thus: First choose your style:

Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice. 
  
Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
  
Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice. 
  
Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers -- representing the 5 Wounds of Christ -- together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm 

Then:

touch the forehead as you say (or pray mentally) "In nomine Patris" ("In the name of the Father") 
  
touch the breastbone or top of the belly as you say "et Filii" ("and of the Son") 
  

touch the left shoulder, then right shoulder, as you say "et Spiritus Sancti" ("and of the Holy Ghost"). Note that some people end the Sign by crossing the thumb over the index finger to make a cross, and then kissing the thumb as a way of "kissing the Cross." 


An optional prayer to pray after signing yourself in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is this one, said to be favored by St. Benedict: 

By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.

Note that Eastern Catholics (and Orthodox) go from right shoulder to left and end sometimes by touching their right side, above the hip, to symbolize Christ's being pierced by the sword. The Bridgettine nuns in their Myroure of our Ladye write of the mystical reasons for the Latin practice, and how it summarizes the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Ascension: 

And then ye bless you with the sygne of the holy crosse, to chase away the fiend with all his deceytes. For, as Chrysostome sayth, wherever the fiends see the signe of the crosse, they flye away, dreading it as a staffe that they are beaten withall. And in thys blessinge ye beginne with youre hande at the hedde downwarde, and then to the lefte side and byleve that our Lord Jesu Christe came down from the head, that is from the Father into erthe by his holy Incarnation, and from the erthe into the left syde, that is hell, by his bitter Passion, and from thence into his Father's righte syde by his glorious Ascension. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

With the Sign, we send a visible sign to the world and follow the advice of St. Ephrem of Syria (died A.D. 373): 

Mark all your actions with the sign of the life giving Cross. Do not go out from the door of your house till you have signed yourself with the Cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be a protecting wall round all your conduct, and teach it to your children that they may earnestly learn the custom. 


 When the Sign is Made 

 A partial indulgence is gained, under the usual conditions, when piously making the Sign of the Cross 
 
Catholics should begin and end their prayers with the Sign of the Cross and should cross themselves when passing a church to honor Jesus in the Tabernacle, upon entering a church, and after receving Communion. The sign is made, too, in times of trouble or fear (e.g., when receiving bad news, in times of temptation, when hearing an ambulance or fire truck go by), when passing a cemetery or otherwise recalling the dead, when seeing a Crucifix -- any time one wishes to honor and invoke God, or ward away evil, fear, and temptation.

 Just for information's sake, the "Distaff Gospels," a collection of old wives tales collected ca. 1470, relate the following in its fifteenth chapter. 

If in the morning, when getting up, a person crosses themselves and washes their hands before leaving the house, the devil will not have the power of harming him or her. Otherwise, whatever the work is done on that day will not be profitable.

 ...About that, Geffrine Tost Preste said that the devil sits on the table of whoever does not say grace before eating, then eats and drinks there. 


 Other Signs of the Cross

There are other signs of the Cross that Catholics make, too. One is made by tracing a small Cross with the thumb of the right hand on people and things. This sign is especially used by parents when blessing children by tracing the sign on the children's foreheads..1 Sometimes the sign is traced by the thumb on a book of Sacred Scripture and then kissed before reading. The sign is also carved onto loaves of bread before cutting, etc.

 Another sign is the large sign made in the air by bishops and priests when blessing persons or material objects.

 Yet another is the series of three small Crosses traced by the thumb of the right hand -- one small Cross on the forehead, one small Cross on the lips, and one small Cross on the breast -- just before the Gospel reading at Mass. The sign on the forehead is to show that we believe the Gospel, the sign on the lips is to show that we respect the Gospel and desire to spread the Good News, and the sign on our breast is to show that we love the Gospel and want it kept in our hearts. 2

 Make the Sign of the Cross and make it often! Teach it to your children -- even the tiniest of children. If they're infants, take their hands and make the movements for them! Making the Sign should feel as natural as breathing...


Footnotes:
1 The use of "bless" here refers to a parental blessing -- i.e., a prayer for God's grace for a child. Priests alone have the power to bless in the name of the Church and with the power of the Church, to bless liturgically, to bless objects rendering them sacramentals, etc.

2 When passing by or upon entering a church, many Mexicans make this form of the sign (with the thumb laid over the index finger to form a cross) -- on the forehead, lips, and mouth -- while praying the words, "Por la senal de la Santa Cruz, de nuestros enemigos libranos Señor Dios Nuestro" -- "By the sign of the Holy Cross deliver us, Lord, from our enemies." This is followed by the regular sign of the Cross outlined above (whose words in Spanish are, "En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo, amen") and the kissing of the Cross made by the thumb laid over the index finger. They refer to the first sign as "signing oneself" ("signarse") and the second action as "blessing oneself" ("santiguarse").
 

  BRIEF OF HIS HOLINESS PIUS IX, POPE


FOR ETERNAL REMEMBRANCE.


Being fully certain that the salutary mystery of the redemption and the divine virtue are contained in the Sign of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the faithful of the primitive Church made the most frequent use of this sign, as we learn from the most ancient and notable monuments. It was even by this sign that they began all their actions.

A At all our steps, all our motions, our incomings and outgoings, lighting the lamps, sitting down to table, taking a seat; whatever we do, or whithersoever we go, we mark our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross, says Tertullian.

Considering these things, we have judged proper to reawaken the piety of the faithful towards the salutary sign of our Redemption, by opening the heavenly treasures, in order that, imitating the beautiful example of the early Christians, they may not blush at making frequently, openly, and publicly the Sign of the Cross, which is the standard of the Christian militia.

Therefore, confiding in the mercy of the Almighty God, and in the authority of His blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, we grant, in the accustomed manner of the Church, to all and every one of the faithful of both sexes, every time that, at least, contrite in heart, and adding the invocation of the Blessed Trinity, they make the sign of the cross, fifty days indulgence for the penances which would have been imposed or that they should do for any reason whatever; we moreover grant mercifully in the Lord, that these indulgences may be applied, in the way of suffrage, to the souls who have departed this life in the grace of God. Notwithstanding all things to the contrary, these presents shall be in perpetuity.

It is also our will that the same credit be given to any written or printed copy of these presents, signed by a public notary, having the seal of an ecclesiastical dignitary, as would be given to these presents themselves, if they were shown or exhibited.

Also, that a copy of these letters be taken to the Office of the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences and Holy Relics, under pain of nullity, conformably to the decree of the said Congregation, dated January 19th, 1756, approved by our predecessor of holy memory, Pope Benedict XIV, the 28th of the same month and the same year.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, under the ring of the Fisherman, the 28th of July, 1863, the eighteenth of our Pontificate.

N. CARDINAL PARACCIANI CLARELLI

These present apostolic letters, in the form of a Brief, dated July 28th, 1863, were presented at the Office of the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences on the 4th of August of the same year, conformably to the decree of the same Sacred Congregation, under date of the 14th of April, 1856.

In testimony of which, given in Rome at the same Office, the day and year as mentioned above.

ARCHBP. PRINZIVALLI, Substit.


First Letter

My dear friends, all the great geniuses of the church, without any exception, made the Sign of the Cross like little children.

They made it frequently, and unceasingly recommended Christians to make use of it on every occasion.  To make the Sign of the Cross, says one of them,  over those who place their hope in Jesus Christ, is the first and best known thing amongst us, primum est et notissimum.. Another:  The Cross is found everywhere; with princes and their subjects, with men and women, with slaves and freemen; and all mark it on the most noble part of the body, the forehead . . . Never cross the threshold of your houses without saying, I renounce Satan, and devote myself to Jesus Christ; accompanying these words with the Sign of the Cross: cum hoc verbo et crucem in fronte imprimas.

Another says:  We should make the Sign of the Cross at each action of the day, Omne diei opus in signo facere Salvatoris. . Others again:  Let the Sign of the Cross be continually made on the heart, on the mouth, on the forehead, at table, at the bath, in bed, coming in and going out, in joy and sadness, sitting, standing, speaking, walking; in short, in all our actions, verbo dicam in omni negotio. Let us make it on our breasts and all our members, that we may be entirely covered with this invincible armor of Christians; armemur hac insuperabili christianorum armatura. .

Even to their last sigh, confirming their words by their example, we see those great geniuses die, like the illustrious Chrysostom, the king of eloquence, in making the Sign of the Cross. Formed in their school, the noblest Christians follow in their footsteps.

Speaking of St. Paula, the grand-daughter of the Scipios, Saint Jerome says: A When she was at the point of death, and we could with difficulty hear her speak, she placed her thumb on her mouth, and, faithful to usage, imprinted the Sign of the Cross upon her lips. .

Let us go back some centuries, and point out some brilliant links in the traditional chain. Without speaking of those immortal emperors, legislators, and warriors, Constantine, Theodosius and Charlemagne, so faithful to the use of the Sign of the Cross, let us come to the greatest of our kings, St. Louis. His friend and historian, the Sire de Joinville, has left us the following testimony:  At table, in the council, in the combat, and in every action, the king always began by the Sign of the Cross. . Bayard, the knight  without fear and without reproach, is mortally wounded. Worthy of his life, his last act is the Sign of the Cross, which he makes with his sword. Represented by two fleets of more than four hundred ships, the Catholic and Mussulman powers meet each other in the Gulf of Lepanto. On the combat depends the safety of civilization or the triumph of barbarism. The destinies of Europe are in the hands of Don John of Austria. Before giving the signal for attack, the Christian hero makes the Sign of the Cross. All the commanders repeat it, and Islamism suffers a defeat from which it never recovers.

Nevertheless, a century later, it tries to repair its defeat. Its innumerable hordes advance even to the walls of Vienna. Sobieski is called. Compared with those of the enemy, his forces are nothing. But Sobieski is a Christian. Before descending into the plain, he makes the Sign of the Cross on his army; he himself forms a living sign, by hearing Mass with his arms extended in the form of the Cross. It was there, says a Christian warrior, that the Grand Vizier was overcome.

I should never conclude, my dear friend, were I to cite, one after the other, all the facts which prove the perpetuity and frequent use of the Sign of the Cross among the true Christians of every age and condition, in the world as in the cloister; in the East as in the West. Does not this glorious tradition form a passably respectable proof in favor of our ancestors of the primitive Church? What do your young companions think of it?

Fourth prepossession in favor of the primitive Christians:  The usage of the Church. Ages roll by, and with the times, men change. Laws, customs, fashions, language, manners of seeing and judging, all are modified. The Church alone changes not. Immutable as truth, of which she is the mistress, that which she taught, that which she did yesterday, she teaches, she does today; she will teach, she will do tomorrow and always.

What are her thoughts, what is her conduct with regard to the Sign of the Cross? There is no point on which her divine immutability is more clearly manifested. For eighteen centuries we may say the Church has lived on the Sign of the Cross. She has not, for a single instant, ceased to employ it. She commences, continues, finishes everything by this sign. Among all her practices, the Sign of the Cross is the principal, the most ordinary, the most familiar. It is the soul of her exorcisms, prayers and benedictions.

What we see her do in our sight, in our basilicas, she did in that of our fathers in the Catacombs.  Without the Sign of the Cross, say they, A nothing is done validly, nothing is perfect, nothing is holy. .

The power of the Church, like that of her divine Founder, is exercised on creatures, and on man. It extends to Heaven and Earth: Data est mihi omnis potestas in cœlo et in terra. How does she exercise it? By the Sign of the Cross. All that she destines for her use  water, salt, bread, wine, fire, stone, wood, oil, balm, linen, silk, brazen figures, precious metals  all that belongs to her children; their dwellings, fields, flocks, implements of labor, the inventions of their industry  she takes possession of all by the Sign of the Cross.

If she wishes to prepare an earthly dwelling for the God of Heaven, first of all, the Sign of the Cross must consecrate the site of the edifice.  Let no one, say the Councils,  dare to build a Church without calling the Bishop to the place, that he may make the Sign of the Cross there, in order to chase away the demons..

The Sign of the Cross is the first thing she employs to bless the materials of the temple. She traces it twenty times upon the pavement, on the pillars, on the altar. To render it permanent, she makes it of iron, and places it on the summit of the edifice. When her children come into the house of God, what do they do before crossing the threshold? They make the Sign of the Cross.

By what do the chiefs of prayer, the bishops and priests, begin to celebrate the praises of the Most High? By the Sign of the Cross. Writes an ancient liturgist:

When at the beginning of the Office we make the Sign of the Cross, saying the words, O God, come to my aid, it is as if we would say thy Cross, O Lord, is our help; the hand makes to thee the Sign of it, and the tongue prays to thee in it. The demon is the chief of the enemies of our salvation; he governs the world, he flatters the flesh in order to allure us. If then, O Lord, thou wilt aid us by thy Cross, he and all our enemies shall be put to flight.

See principally the conduct of the Church towards man, the living temple of the Blessed Trinity. The first thing she makes over him after his birth is the Sign of the Cross; the last, when he returns to the bosom of the Earth is again the Sign of the Cross. Behold her first greeting, and her last farewell to the child of her tender affection!

Within the time that intervenes between the cradle and the grave, how many times is the Sign of the Cross made on man?

At his baptism, in which he is made the child of God, the Sign of the Cross; at his Confirmation, in which he becomes the soldier of virtue, the Sign of the Cross; in the Holy Eucharist, in which he is fed with the bread of angels, the Sign of the Cross; in Extreme Unction, in which he is strengthened for the last combat, the Sign of the Cross; in Holy Orders and Matrimony, in which he is associated to the paternity of God Himself, the Sign of the Cross. Always and everywhere, now as in former times, in the East as in the West, the Sign of the Cross is made on man.

All this is yet nothing. Behold what the Church does, when, in the person of the priest, she ascends the altar. Armed with omnipotence which has been given her, she comes to command, no longer a creature, but the Creator; no longer a man, but God. At her voice, the heavens are opened; the Word again becomes incarnate, and renews all the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection. Is there an act which ought to be performed with more solemn gravity? An act from which should be more carefully banished everything that might be foreign or superfluous?

Now, in the course of this, the action, by excellence, the Church, more than ever, multiplies the Sign of the Cross; she clothes herself with the Sign of the Cross; she goes through it with the Sign of the Cross; she repeats it so frequently, that the number of times would seem to be exaggerated, were it not so profoundly mysterious. Do you know how many times the priest makes the Sign of the Cross during Mass? He makes it forty-eight times! I am wrong; throughout the whole of the august sacrifice, the priest is himself a living Sign of the Cross.

And the Catholic Church, the grave teacher of nations, the great mistress of truth, does she amuse herself by repeating so frequently, in her most solemn act, a sign, useless, superstitious, or of minor importance? If your companions believe this, they are wrong to call themselves unbelievers: it is not credulity that is wanting to them.

The conduct of the Church and of true Christians in every age, is, then, a victorious prepossession in favor of our primitive ancestors.

Fifth prepossession in favor of the early Christians:  Those who do not make the Sign of the Cross.

There are on earth six classes of beings
 that do not make the Sign of the Cross.
First, pagans:  the Chinese, Hindoos, Tibetans, Hottentots, and the savages of Oceanica, adorers of monstrous idols, nations most deeply degraded, yet not the less unhappy  they do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Second, the Mahometans: swine by sensuality, tigers by cruelty, automata, by fatalism,  they do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Third, the Jews:  deeply encrusted with a thick layer of superstition, the living petrifaction of a fallen race  they do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Fourth, Heretics:  impertinent sectaries, who have pretended to reform the work of God, who, in punishment of their pride, have lost even the last remnant of truth.

 I affirm, said one of your Prussian ministers lately, A that I could write on my thumb nail all that remains among Protestants of common belief:  Protestants do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Fifth, bad Catholics, renegades to their baptism, slaves of human respect, haughty in their ignorance, who speak of everything, yet know nothing; adorers of the god of their belly, of the god of the flesh, of the god of matter; whose private life is like a sullied garment  they do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Sixth, beasts, bipeds and quadrupeds of all kinds:  dogs, cats, asses, mules, camels, owls, crocodiles, oysters, hippopotamuses  they do not make the Sign of the Cross.

Such are the six classes of beings that do not make the Sign of the Cross.

If, before tribunals, the moral character of the plaintiffs or defendants contributes powerfully to form the opinions of the judges, even before the examination of the cause, I leave you to judge whether the character of the beings who do not make the Sign of the Cross is a small prepossession in favor of the early Christians.

In a word, with regard to the frequent use of the Sign of the Cross, the world is divided into two opposite parties.

For it:  The admirable Christians of the primitive Church; the holiest and greatest geniuses of the East and the West; the true Christians of every age; the Church herself, the Mistress of truth.

Against it:  Pagan, Mahometans, Jews, Heretics, bad Catholics, and beasts.

It seems to me that you can already decide; moreover, your convictions shall be more strongly confirmed, when you learn the motives which justify the one, and condemn the other.

I will reveal them in the following letters.


FOURTH LETTER


Answer to one objection, the times are changed  Reasons in favor of the primitive Christians, drawn from the very nature of the Sign of the Cross  The Sign of the Cross is five things. A divine sign which ennobles man.  Proofs that it is divine. November 29th.

 

MY DEAR FREDERIC:


 As for me, I hear you say, my dear Frederic, A the question is decided. Never will I believe that God has given truth and good sense to His enemies, and at the same time condemned his best friends to error and superstition.

This avowal rejoices, yet does not surprise me. Your mind seeks the truth, and your heart does not reject it. If all were in the like dispositions, the apologist's task would be easy. Unfortunately, it is otherwise. In the greater part of controversies, particularly religious controversies, men, argue not according to reason, but according to their passions. They combat, not for truth, but for victory. Sad victory, which more strongly confirms them in the slavery of error and vice!

What I know of your companions, and so many other pretended Catholics of our day, gives me reason to fear they are ambitious for this fatal victory alone. I love them too much not to contest it with them. In order to remove the bandage with which they cover their eyes, as well as to strengthen yet more your own convictions, I shall expose the intrinsic reasons which justify the inviolable fidelity of true Christians to the frequent use of the Sign of the Cross.

Let us first do justice to the great object of modern contemners of the adorable Sign.  Other times, other manners, say they.  What was useful, nay, even necessary in the first ages of the Church, is not so now. Times are changed; we must live according to the manners of the day.

St Paul answers them: Jesus Christ yesterday, and today and the same forever.

Tertullian adds: The Incarnate Word calls Himself Truth, and not custom. Truth, then changes not. What the apostles, the Christians of the primitive Church, and the true Christians of every age have held to be useful, and to a certain extent, even necessary, has not now ceased to be so. I dare even affirm it to be more necessary now than ever.

This is on account of the many points of resemblance which exist between the situation of the primitive Christians, and that of the Christians of the nineteenth century.

What was the situation of our forefathers of the primitive Church? They were in the midst of a world which was not Christian, which did not wish to become so, and which persecuted those who persisted in being so.

And are not we in the midst of a world that is losing Christianity, that does not wish to return to it, and that persecutes, sometimes by violence, those who persist in professing it?

If, in a like situation, the first Christians, formed in the school of the apostles, regarded as necessary the frequent use of the Sign of the Cross, why should we abandon it? Are we stronger or more skilful? Are our dangers less great, our enemies less numerous or perfidious? To propose such questions is to decide them. Let us proceed.

Until now, my dear Frederic, I have established only the exterior circumstances of the cause: it is necessary now to examine it in its depth, by adducing reasons drawn from the very nature of the Sign of the Cross.

For you, for me, for all sensible men, they may be summed up as follows: C We are children of the dust, the Sign of the Cross is a divine Sign, which ennobles us; we are ignorant, it is a book which instructs us; poor, it is a treasure which enriches us; soldiers, it is a weapon which puts the enemy to flight; travelers on the way to Heaven, it is a guide that conducts us.

Assume the insignia of a judge, ascend your tribunal, and hear the cause.

We are children of the dust; the Sign of the Cross is a divine sign, which ennobles us.

Tell me who is that being that comes into the world weeping; who crawls like the worm, who, like the smallest animal is subject to every infirmity, and for even a longer time than it, is incapable of supplying his own wants?

Let the man who is called prince, king, or emperor; the woman who is called countess, duchess, or empress, be not too proud.

One glance backward will tell them who that being is: it is man; a worm of the Earth in the cradle, the food of worms in the tomb..

That being so low, so useless, and during the first stages of his existence, so ignominiously confounded with the weakest and vilest of animals, is, moreover, but too much inclined by his instincts to resemble them. Nevertheless, that being is the image of God, the king of creation; he must not degrade himself. God touches him on the forehead, and imprints a Divine Sign which ennobles him. Nobility imposes obligations. Respected by others, he will respect himself.

This patent of nobility, this divine mark, is the Sign of the Cross. It is divine, since it comes from Heaven, since the owner alone has the right to stamp his property with his image. It comes from Heaven, since Earth avows that it did not invent it. Go through every country and every age, nowhere will you find the man that invented it, the saint that taught it, the council that imposed it. "Tradition teaches it," says Tertullian, "custom confirms it, faith practices it." .

In Tertullian you hear the latter part of the second century of the Church. Saint Justin speaks for the first, and teaches not only the existence of the Sign of the Cross, but the manner in which it was made. Behold us in those primitive times, days of eternal memory, called even by heretics the "Golden Age" of Christianity, on account of the purity of its doctrine, and the sanctity of its morals. Here, then, we find the Sign of the Cross in full practice, in the East and the West.

Let us go back a few steps and we shall clasp hands with St. John, the last survivor of the apostles. See the venerable old man, making the Sign of the Cross over the poisoned cup, and drinking the deadly liquor with impunity.

A few steps farther, and we meet his illustrious colleagues, Peter and Paul. Like John, the beloved disciple of the divine Master, Peter and Paul, the princes of the apostles, make religiously the Sign of the Cross, and teach it from the East to the West, in Jerusalem, Antioch, Athens, and Rome, to Greeks and barbarians. Let us listen to an unexceptionable witness of tradition. A Paul,@ says Saint Augustine, A carries everywhere the royal standard of the Cross. He fishes for men, and Peter marks the nations with the Sign of the Cross.@ .

They make it not only over men, but also over inanimate creatures, and cause others to do the same. "Every creature of God is good," writes the great Apostle, "and nothing to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." .

Such is the rule. What is the sense? In the study of law, if we meet with an obscure passage, what do we do? To elucidate it, we consult the interpreter best authorized and nearest to the legislator; his word is law.

Listen to the best authorized interpreter of St. Paul, the great Chrysostom. "Paul," says he, "here establishes two things; the first, that no creature is unclean; the second, that supposing it to be so, the means of cleansing it is at hand. Make the Sign of the Cross over it, render thanks and glory to God, and at the same instant, all uncleanness shall disappear." . Behold apostolic teaching!

The princes of the apostles made the Sign of the Cross not only over inanimate creatures, and the multitudes who received the faith from them, but on themselves also. This sign, then, existed before them. Paul the persecutor is thrown down on the road to Damascus. He must become the apostle of the God whom he pursues. What will be the first act of that victorious God? To mark the vanquished with the Sign of the Cross. "Go," says He to Ananias, " go, and mark him with my sign." .

Who then is the author and institutor of the Sign of the Cross? To find him we must go beyond all ages, all visible creatures, all angelic hierarchies; we must rise to the Eternal Word, the Truth in person.

Listen again to a witness who was so situated as to know it perfectly, a witness so irreproachable that he has sealed his testimony with his blood. I mean Saint Cyprian, the immortal Bishop of Carthage. "O Lord, Holy Priest," exclaims he, "thou hast bequeathed to us three imperishable things: the chalice of thy blood, the Sign of the Cross, and the example of thy sufferings." .

 Saint Augustine adds: "It is thou that hast willed this Sign should be imprinted on our foreheads." .

It would be easy to cite twenty other witnesses, but as I am writing letters and not books, I will stop. The Sign of the Cross is a Divine Sign: this is the first fact established in the discussion. There is another, of which I shall speak tomorrow.


FIFTH LETTER .


The Sign of the Cross ennobles us C It is the exclusive sign of the elite of humanity C It is the escutcheon of Catholicity C What a Catholic is C By ennobling us, the Sign of the Cross teaches us the respect due to ourselves C Importance of this lesson C Disgrace of those who do not make this sign C Picture of the contempt they have for themselves.


November 30th


MY DEAR FREDERIC:


I have added, my dear Frederic, that the Sign of the Cross is a Sign which ennobles. It ennobles us because it is divine. All that is divine is ennobling. This reason alone might dispense with every other, nevertheless, I add that it ennobles us, because it is the exclusive Sign of the élite of humanity. Have your companions ever reflected on this?

All who do not make the Sign of the Cross, and much more, all who are so unfortunate as to blush at it, remain confounded with Pagans, Mahometans, Jews, Heretics, bad Catholics and beasts, that is to say, with the very dregs of creation. What do you think of this? Have we not reason to be proud of that which distinguishes us from those who do not bear it?

A child is proud of belonging to a family venerable for its antiquity, illustrious for its services, respected for its virtue, powerful by its riches. Again, how jealous he is of his escutcheon! He carves it in stone, marble, silver, gold, agate or ruby; he engraves it on his dwelling, sculptures it on his furniture, enchases it on his plate, and marks it on his linen; he bears it on his seal, would wish to carry it on his forehead. It is painted on the panels of his carriage, and even the harness of his horses is decorated with it. Leaving vanity aside, he is right. His conduct proclaims the eminently social law of solidarity. The glory of their forefathers is the glory of the children; it is the family patrimony.

Being a Catholic, the Sign of the Cross is my escutcheon. It proclaims to me and to every one, the nobility of my race, its antiquity, its services, its glories and its virtues. And I not be proud of it? I should then deny the illustrious blood that courses through my veins! Unworthy to bear a great name, I should basely repudiate the law of solidarity, throw my coat-of-arms into the mire, and cast to the winds the rich inheritance of my ancestors.

Men are proud of belonging to an aristocratic nation; The Spaniard is proud of being Spanish; the Englishman, of being English; the Frenchman of being French, and so with other great nations.

Tell me, my friend, which is the grandest, the most aristocratic nation on the globe?

It is a nation more ancient, and which, in itself alone, has a greater number of citizens than all those I have named; a nation which, by its light, shines in the world like the sun in the firmament; a nation essentially expansive, which, at the price of its blood, has drawn the human race out of barbarism and, at the same price, prevents it from falling back into it again, as is proved by history and the map of the world; a nation among whose children alone are found all that man has known as great by genius, virtue, science and courage; whole legions of doctors, virgins, martyrs, orators, poets, philosophers and artists; the great legislators, good kings, and illustrious warriors in every part of the world; a nation so much the more aristocratic, that to her all others owe their superiority. No matter what may be said or done, history points this out as the great Catholic nation. I belong to it. The Sign of the Cross is its escutcheon, and shall I be ashamed of it?

God Himself has deigned to show, by striking miracles, how honored in His sight are the person and the member that make the Sign of the Cross.

Saint Editha, daughter of Edgar, King of England, from her very infancy, bore the Sign of the Cross in her heart. This little princess, one of the most beautiful flowers of virginity that have adorned the former Isle of Saints, did nothing without first making this salutary sign on her forehead and breast.

Having caused a church to be built in honor of St. Dionysius, she begged St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, to come to dedicate it. He did so willingly, and in several interviews which he had with the Saint, he was struck at seeing her make so frequently the Sign of the Cross on her forehead with the thumb, according to the custom of the early Christians.

This devotion pleased him so much that he begged God to bless that thumb, and even to preserve it from the corruption of the grave. His prayer was granted.

The Saint died soon after, at the age of twenty-three years, and, appearing to the holy bishop, said:

Raise my body from the tomb. You will find it incorrupt, with the exception of those members, of which, in the levity of my childhood, I made a bad use.

Those members were her eyes, feet and hands, which, in effect, were found to be decayed, except the thumb, with which she had so often made the Sign of the Cross..

As regards the point of honor, were our ancestors wrong in making such frequent use of the Sign of the Cross? Are we right in not making it?

Alas! Far different from ours was the pride of their nobility, the feeling of their dignity! By dwelling so much on the obligations of that dignity, I do not wonder at their having established a society, which, for the heroism of its virtues, is without parallel in the annals of the world: you will now begin to understand it.

The first sentiment with which the Sign of the Cross inspires us is respect for ourselves, because it ennobles us. Respect for ourselves! Dear friend, what a great thing I have said. I look around me, I see an age, a world, a rising generation which talks incessantly of the dignity of man, of emancipation, of liberty. These words, either void of meaning, or filled with an evil one, render the age, the world, the generation, ungovernable. Impatient of the yoke of all authority, divine, social, civil, or parental, they continually cry out to all they meet: A Respect me!@

Very good; but if you wish to be respected, begin by respecting yourself. The respect of others for us is proportioned to that which we have for ourselves. Cruelty, hypocrisy, debauchery, vice gilded, gloved, painted, plumed, spurred and crowned, may inspire fear, but can never win respect. Now, then, the man of the day, whether he be old or young, who does not make the Sign of the Cross, does he respect himself? Let us make a trial by autopsy.

The noblest part of man is the soul; the noblest faculty of his soul is the intelligence. Precious vessel, formed by the hand of God Himself to receive truth, and nothing but the truth! All that is not truth defiles and profanes it. Does the man of our day respect it? Is it truth that he deposits therein? He has nothing but disgust for the pure sources whence it flows. Divine oracles, sermons, books of asceticism, or Christian philosophy, fill him with loathing.

If you descend into that baptized intelligence, you will think yourself to be in a storehouse of odds and ends. There you find jumbled together, pell-mell, ignorance, idle tales, frivolity, prejudices, lies, errors, doubts, objections, denial, impieties, silliness and trifles. A sad spectacle, which reminds me of an ostrich that died lately in Lyons. You know that in the autopsy, one of the stomachs of the stupid animal was found to be a regular storehouse of old iron, ends of ropes, and pieces of wood.

Such is the intellectual nourishment of the man who does not make the Sign of the Cross. Behold how he respects it!

And his heart? Excuse me, my dear Frederic, from revealing to you its ignominy. Its emotions, instead of being directed upward, tend downward. Instead of soaring like the eagle, it crawls like the worm; instead of feeding like the bee on the perfumed juice of flowers, like the stercorary fly it rests only on filth. There is no violation of the immaculate law from which it recoils, no pollution which it avoids; and, as you know that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, the throat is, like the vent-hole of a sepulcher, full of corruption..

And his body? Young man, who think it beneath you to make the Sign of the Cross, you believe yourself very clever; you are to be pitied. You think yourself independent; you are a slave. You refuse to honor yourself by doing what the élite of mankind do; by a just judgment, you shall dishonor yourself by the most shameful acts of the dregs of humanity.

Your hand will not trace the Divine Sign on your forehead, but it will touch what it should never touch.

You will not defend your eyes, lips, or breast with this protecting Sign; your eyes shall be sullied by looking at what they should never see; your lips, talkative yet dumb, loquaces multi, as says a great genius,, shall say nothing that they should, and everything they should not; your breast, a profane altar, shall burn with a fire the very name of which is a disgrace. This is private history. You cannot deny it; you cannot efface it. Written here with ink, it may be read on every part of your being, written with the blood of sin, in sanguine peccati.

And his life? The man who does not make, or who has ceased to make, the Sign of the Cross loses all esteem of his life. He despises it, he squanders it, for he never takes it in earnest. To turn night into day, and day into night; to work little, sleep much, fare sumptuously; to refuse nothing to his appetites; to spend time without any regard to eternity, that is to say, in weaving cobwebs, catching flies, and building card-castles; in a word, using his life as if he were the proprietor of it: this is not taking life in earnest. To take life in earnest is to use it according to the will of Him who gave it to us, and who will demand a rigorous account of it, not as a whole, but in detail; not by the year, but by the moment.

When the despiser of the Divine Sign, which would ennoble his life by inspiring him with respect for his soul and body, is wearied with the ways of trifling and iniquity, what does he do? Alas! He but too often throws down life as an insupportable burden. Regarding himself as a beast, for which there is neither fear nor hope beyond the grave, he kills himself. Here, my good Frederic, how can I express to you my sorrow? That which the apostle, ravished with admiration, said of the marvels of Heaven, C that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, C we must now say with fear, shame, and trembling. No; at no epoch, in no climate, among no nation, not even pagans or cannibals, has man ever seen or heard, or his mind conceived, what we see, hear, and touch with our hands. What is it? Suicide. Suicide on a scale without example in history. In France alone, one hundred thousand within the last thirty years! One hundred thousand! And they continue still to increase!

Now, I am almost certain, without having the proof, that of those hundred thousand persons who died in despair, more than ninety-nine thousand had lost the custom of making the Sign of the Cross frequently, seriously, and religiously. Hold this for the thirteenth article of your Creed. More to-morrow.


 

SIXTH LETTER


Continuation of the preceding letter C The Sign of the Cross is a book which instructs us C Creation, redemption, glorification: three words which contain all the science of god, of man, and of the world C The Sign of the Cross says these three words with authority, with clearness, with sublimity C It says them to every one, everywhere, and always.

December 1st.

 

MY DEAR FREDERIC:


A Divine Sign, the distinctive mark of the élite of humanity, the escutcheon of the Catholic; such, my dear Frederic, is the Sign of the Cross, considered in its first point of view. If it be true that rank imposes obligation, I know of no means more simple, easy, and efficacious to inspire men with sentiments of dignity and respect for themselves, than the Sign of the Cross made frequently, seriously, and religiously. This is one of the reasons of its being.

"This sign," says a Father of the Church, "is a powerful protection. It is gratuitous, because of the poor; easy, because of the weak. A benefit from God, the standard of the faithful, the terror of demons; far from causing you to despise it, its being a free gift should even increase your gratitude."  I add, that its eloquence is equal to its power.

What does it say to man? We shall see. We are ignorant; the Sign of the Cross is a book which instructs us. Creation, Redemption, Glorification; all science, theological, philosophical, social, political, historical, divine and human, is comprised in these three words. The science of the past, present and future, is here, and here only. These three words are the lights of the world, the bases of intelligence; suppose, for a moment, that the world forgets them, or loses their sense, what does it become? An agglomeration of atoms, moving in empty space, without direction or aim. It becomes blind without guide or staff; an inexplicable mystery to itself; unhappy, without consolation; a galley-slave without hope: — behold man, behold society!

These three words, Creation, Redemption, Glorification, are, then, more necessary to the human race than the bread which nourishes it, or the air that it breathes. They are necessary to every one, at every hour and always. They alone direct a life and every life, an action and every action, a word and every word, a thought and every thought, a joy and every joy, a sadness and every sadness, a sentiment and every sentiment. This supposed, reason says that God owed it to Himself to establish a means, universal, easy, and permanent, by which to give to all that fundamental knowledge; to give it not once, and for a time only, but to renew it unceasingly, as He renews, at every instant, the air which we breathe.

To what doctor shall be given the charge of this indispensable teaching? To St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, or any other great genius of the East or the West? No, those doctors die, and we must have one that is immortal. Those doctors dwell in a certain place, and we must have one that lives everywhere. They speak a language that cannot be understood by all; we must have one who speaks intelligibly to every one, to the savage inhabitants of Oceanica, as well as to the civilized inhabitants of the old world. Who, then, shall be our teacher? You know it; it is the Sign of the Cross. It, and it only, fulfils all the requisite conditions. It never dies; it dwells everywhere; its language is universal. In an instant it can give its lesson; in an instant every one can understand it.

In proof of what I assert, allow me, dear friend, to discover a mystery to you. The Incarnate Word, whom Isaias with reason calls the Teacher of mankind, had resolved to die for us. Many kinds of death were presented to Him; stoning, decapitation, poison, being thrown from a high place, fire, water, and what not? Amongst all these, why did He choose the Cross? A learned theologian answered this question many centuries ago. "One of the reasons why Infinite Wisdom has chosen the Cross is because a slight motion of the hand is sufficient to trace upon us the instrument of the divine torture: bright and powerful Sign, which teaches us all that we have to know, and serves as a buckler against our enemies.".

Behold the Sign of the Cross, duly established as the catechist of mankind! Is it true, you ask, that it performs its functions well? In other words, that it repeats, and repeats in a becoming manner, the three great words, Creation, Redemption, Glorification? Not only does it repeat them, but it explains them with an authority, sublimity, and clearness which belong to it alone.

With authority — divine in its origin, it is the organ of God Himself. With sublimity and clearness — this you shall see presently. When you place your hand on your forehead while saying, "In the name," using only the singular number, the Sign of the Cross teaches you the indivisible unity of the Divine Essence. By this word alone, be you a child or servant-maid, you know more than all the philosophers of paganism. What progress in a single, momentary act! In saying, of the Father, what a new and immense ray of light in your intellect! The Sign of the Cross has told you that there is a Being, the Father of all fathers, the Eternal Principle of being, from whom proceed all creatures, celestial and terrestrial, visible and invisible.. At this new word are dissipated the thick mists which, during twenty centuries, concealed from the eyes of the pagan world the origin of all things.

You continue to say — and of the Son. The adorable sign also continues its teaching. It tells you that the Father of all fathers has a Son like Himself. While making you carry your hand to your breast, when you pronounce His name, it teaches you that this Eternal Son of God became in time the Son of man, in the womb of a Virgin, in order to redeem man. Man is then fallen.

What brilliant light does this third word cause to rise upon your intellect! The coexistence of good and evil on the Earth, the terrible duality which you feel within yourself; that mixture of noble instincts and base propensities, of sublime actions and shameful ones, the necessity of struggling, the possibility and means of rehabilitation; all those mysteries whose depth so long puzzled and perplexed the pagan philosophers, are no longer veiled from you.

You conclude by saying — and of the Holy Ghost. This word completes the teachings of the Sign of the Cross Thanks to it, you know that there is, in God, Unity of Essence and Trinity of Persons. You have a just idea of the Being par excellence, the complete Being. He would not be such, were He not one and three. If the First Person is necessarily Power, the Second necessarily Wisdom, the Third is necessarily Love. This Love, essentially beneficent, completes the work of the Father who creates, and of the Son who redeems; He sanctifies man and conducts him to glory.

What clear teaching for the direction of the life of nations and individuals; for kings as well as for subjects! If Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, or any of those ancient seekers after truth; those philosophers, legislators, and moralists exhausted by study and tormented by insolvable doubts, had heard of a master who taught with the depth and sublimity of the Sign of the Cross, we may hold it as certain that they would have gone to the uttermost end of the world to see him, happy to spend their lives in listening to him.

In pronouncing the name of the Holy Ghost, you have formed the Cross. You know not only the Redeemer, but the instrument of Redemption. Thus, while the Sign of the Cross inundates the mind with dazzling lights, it also opens in the heart an inexhaustible source of love; a new benefit, of which I shall speak hereafter.

In the meantime, answer me — Is it possible to teach, in fewer words, with greater eloquence, and in more intelligible language, the three great dogmas of Creation, Redemption, and Glorification, the pivots of the moral world, the generating principles of the human intellect?

A being created, a being destined for eternal glory, a being redeemed; C man, behold what you are!

What do you think of this, dear friend C is not this theology? But if theology is the science of God, of man, and of the world; if philosophy, the rational knowledge of God, of man, and of the world, is the daughter of theology; if from theology and philosophy flow all sciences, politics, ethics, and history; it follows from this, that the Sign of the Cross is the most learned and the least diffuse doctor that has ever taught.

Do you wish to know what place it holds in the world? I will tell you tomorrow.


 

SEVENTH LETTER


The place which the Sign of the Cross holds in the world C What the human race was before it knew how to make the Sign of the Cross C What becomes of the world when it ceases to make it C Another point of view: the Sign of the Cross is a treasure which enriches us. December 2nd.

MY DEAR FREDERIC:

 

They who despise or contemn the Sign of the Cross have very little suspicion of the place it holds in the world. They belong to that class of persons so numerous in our day, who suspect nothing, because they doubt nothing.

Lay aside, for a moment, your office of judge; give me your hand; let us make a brief tour through the ancient and modern worlds. Let us visit, first, the brilliant ages of antiquity, in which men knew not how to make the Sign of the Cross; and, pilgrims of truth, let us travel through the East and the West.

Memphis, Athens, Rome, three great centers of light, call us to the schools of their wise men.

What say those illustrious masters on the points most important for us to know?

Is the world eternal, or has it been created? If created, by whom was it created? Is the author of nature matter or spirit?

Is he eternal, free, independent?

Are there many?

Answer: Hesitation, uncertainty, flagrant contradictions.

What is good? What is evil? What is their origin? How comes it that they are found in man and in the world?

Is there a remedy for evil, or is it incurable? What is the remedy? Who possesses it? How can we obtain it, how apply it?

Answer: Hesitation, uncertainty, flagrant contradictions.

What is man? Has he a soul? Of what nature is that soul? Is it a fire? A breath? A spirit? Æriform matter? Is it subject to fate? If it survives the body, what is its destiny? What is the end of its existence?

To all these questions, and to a thousand others, the answer is, C Hesitation, uncertainty, flagrant contradictions.

Ah! Pretended great men and great nations, who cannot give the first word of answer to these fundamental questions C you are but great ignoramuses. What matters it to us that you can invent systems; sharpen sophisms; overwhelm the schools, the senate, and the Areopagus with your inexhaustible eloquence; drive chariots in the circus, build cities; join in battles, conquer provinces, make land and sea tributary to your concupiscence? As long as you are ignorant of what you are, whence you came, and whither you are going, you are, to use the expression of one of your own, but fattened swine of the herds of Epicurus, Epicuri de grege porci. Such was the world before the Sign of the Cross.

But this eloquent Sign has appeared.

All those disgraceful darknesses have been dissipated. By making it, man, whether learned or illiterate, has learned the science of himself, of the world, and of God. By repeating it unceasingly, he has engraven it in the very depths of his soul, in such a manner that he can never forget it. Whatever people may say, it was owing to the frequent use of the Sign of the Cross, in all classes of society, in the city as well as in the country, that the Catholic world, of the primitive and middle ages, preserved in a degree unknown, either before or since, the divine science, the mother of all others, and the light of life.

Could it be otherwise? Let a man during forty years repeat seriously, ten times a day, any error, whatever it may be, he will end by being completely imbued and identified with it. Why should not the same happen with the truth?

Do you desire the proof of what I advance? Let us continue our journey; come with me through the modern world. It has abandoned the Sign of the Cross. Hence it no longer has a monitor ever at its side to repeat at every instant those three great dogmas so necessary to its moral life. It forgets them; they are for it as if they were not. Now, see what becomes of it with regard to science. Like the ancient world, you hear it stammer shamefully over the very elementary principles of religion, of right, of the family, and of propriety. What grounds of truth maintain its conversations? What are contained in its books of politics and philosophy? By the glimmer of what light does it direct its private life?

And the newspapers, those new Fathers of the Church, what do you think of them? Among the torrent of words which they every day pour out on society, how many sound ideas regarding God, man, or the world, do you find?

What does it know, this modern world, this age of enlightenment, which knows no longer how to make the Sign of the Cross? Neither more nor less than the pagans, its masters and models. The god of self, the god of commerce, the god of cotton, the god of the dollar, the god of the belly, deus venter. It knows and adores the goddess of industry, the goddess of steam, the goddess of electricity. As means to satisfy its cupidity, it knows and adores the science of matter, chemistry, physic, mechanism, dynamics, salts, essences, sulfates, nitrates and carbonates. Behold its gods, its worship, its theology, its philosophy, its politics, its morals, its life.

Yet a little more improvement and it will know as much as the contemporaries of Noah, condemned to perish by the waters of the Deluge.

For them, also, all science consisted in knowing and adoring the gods of the modern world; in drinking, eating, building, buying, selling, marrying, and being married. Man had concentrated his life in matter. He had become flesh, ignorant as flesh, foul as flesh..

Of all those inclinations, which is wanting to the world of our day? Although less advanced than that of the giants, is it not of the same nature? As for the rest, nothing better can be expected from it. Knowing no longer how to make the Sign of the Cross, or refusing to make it, it materializes itself, and in virtue of the law of moral gravitation, falls back into the state in which it was before it knew how to make it.

We are ignorant; the Sign of the Cross is a book which instructs us. From this new point of view, you can judge whether our forefathers were wrong in making it incessantly.

That the deplorable ignorance of the present world may, in a great measure, be ascribed to its abandonment of the Sign of the Cross, you shall presently see.

What is ignorance? Ignorance is poverty of the mind. In matters of religion it is more frequently called poverty of the heart. Poverty of the heart comes from its weakness in practicing virtue and rejecting evil. Why this weakness? Because man neglects the means of obtaining grace, or rendering it efficacious. The first, the most familiar, prompt and easy of those means, is, as you know, prayer. Of all prayers, the easiest, shortest, most familiar, and perhaps the most powerful, is the Sign of the Cross. A new meditation for you, a new justification for the early Christians.

We are poor; the Sign of the Cross is a treasure that enriches us. A beggar is one who goes daily from door to door to beg his bread. Crœsus was a beggar, Alexander was a beggar, Cæsar was a beggar, all emperors and kings, all empresses and queens were beggars; crowned beggars indeed, but always beggars.

Who is the man, no matter how opulent we may suppose him to be, who is not obliged to say every day at the door of the great Father of the family, Give us this day our daily bread?

Can the most potent monarch make a grain of wheat? Man has received everything, physical and moral life, and the means of preserving both, quid habes quod non accepisti? He possesses nothing of his own, not even one hair of his head.

Again, what he has received, has not been given him once for all. He is in want every day, every hour, every instant. If God, the giver of all, were to withhold His gifts for a moment, man should die. Since then man has nothing, and is in want of everything, at every instant he must beg.

From this, my dear Frederic, arises a great law of the moral world, on which, most certainly, your young companions have never reflected. I mean the law of prayer.

The pagans of the ancient world, the idolaters and savages of the present day, have lost more or less of the patrimony of traditionary truths, but none have lost their knowledge of the law of prayer. Man, from his first appearance on the globe, has invariably observed it under one form or another.

Stronger than all passions, more eloquent than all sophisms, the instinct of self-preservation told him that on his invariable fidelity to it depended his existence: it did not deceive him. On that day, on which no prayer, either human or angelic, would be raised to God, all relations would cease between the Creator and the creature, between the Giver and the beggar; and the flow of the river of life would, at that instant, be suspended.

Is not this the profound mystery revealed to the world by the Incarnate Word Himself, when He said that we ought always to pray, and not to faint, Oportet semper orare et nunquarn deficere? Take notice how imperative are these words. The law-giver does not invite; He commands, and the commandment is of absolute necessity, oportet. He allows of no intermission, either day or night, in the accomplishment of the law, oportet semper. As long as man shall be a beggar in the sight of God, so long shall the law of prayer never be modified, never recalled, never suspended; and as man must always be a mendicant, it follows that the law of prayer shall preserve its empire unto the last day of the world: et nunquam deficere. The physical world itself has been organized with reference to the perpetual observance of this conserving law of the moral world. Thanks to the successive passage or the sun over one hemisphere or the other, one-half of mankind are always awake for prayer.

Now, one of the most powerful prayers is the Sign of the Cross. All mankind have believed this. They believed it only because they had learned it; they could have learned it only from God Himself, from whom they have learned everything. I say all mankind, designedly. Your young companions believe, perhaps, that the Sign of the Cross dates from Christianity, or that, at least, its use has been limited to the Jews and Catholics. In my next letter I will show you what confidence this opinion deserves.


EIGHTH LETTER.


The Sign of the Cross known and practiced since the beginning of the world C Contradictions only apparent C Seven ways of making the Sign of the Cross C Testimonies of the fathers C David, Solomon, and all the Jewish nation have the Sign of the Cross, and knew its value C Proofs. December 3rd.


MY DEAR FREDERIC:

 

Your ears and those of many others will tingle at the first sentence of my letter C the Sign of the Cross runs back to the very beginning of the world. It has been made by all nations, even by pagans, in their solemn prayers on important occasions, when they desired to obtain some signal favors. Let me first remark, that between this proposition and that which I advanced in my preceding letter, there is no contradiction. Yesterday I spoke of the Sign of the Cross in its perfect form and fully understood, such as we practice it since the Gospel. Today I speak of the Sign of the Cross in a form, elementary though real, and more or less mysterious to those who made it before the Gospel. An explanation seems to be necessary. I am about to give it.

The Sign of the Cross is so natural to man, that at no epoch, among no nation, and in no form of worship, did man ever put himself in communication with God by prayer, without making the Sign of the Cross. Do you know of any nation who were accustomed to pray with their arms hanging down? As for me, I do not. All those that I know, and I know the Jews, the Pagans, and the Catholics, have, in prayer, made the Sign of the Cross.

There are seven ways of making it:

With the arms extended: man then becomes an entire Sign of the Cross.

With hands clasped, the fingers interlaced, thus forming five Signs of the Cross.

The hands joined, one against the other, the thumbs placed one over the other; again, the Sign of the Cross.

The hands crossed on the breast; another form of the Sign of the Cross.

The arms equally crossed on the breast; fifth way of making it.

The thumb of the right hand passing under the index finger and resting on the middle one; a Sign of the Cross much in use, as we shall see hereafter.

And finally, the right hand passing from the forehead to the breast, and from the breast to the shoulders; a more explicit form, which you know.

Under one or the other of these forms, the Sign of the Cross has been practiced everywhere and always, in solemn circumstances, with a knowledge more or less clear of its efficacy.

Jacob lies at the point of death. Around him stand his twelve sons, the future fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Inspired by God, the holy patriarch announces to each what shall happen to him in succeeding ages. At the sight of Ephraim and Manasses, Joseph= s two children, the old man being moved, invokes on them all the blessings of Heaven. To obtain them, what does he do? He crosses his arms, says the Scripture, and places his left hand on the child at his right, and his right on the one at his left. Behold, the Sign of the Cross, the eternal token of benediction!

In this, tradition is not deceived. Jacob was the type of the Messiah. In that solemn moment, words, attitude, everything in the patriarch was prophetic.

A Jacob, says St. John of Damascus, in crossing his hands to bless Joseph= s children, forms the Sign of the Cross; nothing is more evident.@ .

Even from apostolic times, Tertullian established the same fact, and gave it the like meaning. A The Old Testament, says he, A shows us Jacob blessing Joseph= s children, his left hand passed over on the head of him at his right, and the right on the head of him at his left. In this position they formed the Sign of the Cross, and foretold the blessings of which the Crucified should be the source. .

Let us go back to the time of the servitude in Egypt, and pass on to Moses. Having reached the midst of the desert, the Hebrews find themselves face to face with Amalec. At the head of a powerful army, the hostile king stops their passage. A decisive battle is inevitable. What will Moses do? Instead of remaining in the plain, to encourage, by his voice and gesture, the battalions of Israel, he ascends the mountain which commands a view of the battle-field. What does the lawgiver, inspired by God, do during the combat? He makes the Sign of the Cross, nothing but the Sign of the Cross, and the Sign of the Cross during the whole of the combat. Nowhere do we learn that he pronounces any words. With hands open, and arms extended toward Heaven, he makes himself a living Sign of the Cross. God sees him in this attitude, and the victory is gained..

This is not an idle supposition. Listen again to the Fathers of the Church. A Amalec,@ cries out St. John of Damascus, A those hands extended in the form of a Cross, have vanquished thee! . And the great Tertullian: A Why does Moses, at the time that Joshua is about to combat with Amalec, do what he never did before C pray with extended arms? In a circumstance so decisive, should he not, in order to render his prayer more efficacious, bend his knee, strike his breast, and bow his head to the dust? Nothing of all this. Why? Because that combat of the Lord in which Amalec was delivered up a prey, prefigured the battles of the Incarnate Word against Satan, and the Sign of the Cross, by which He was to conquer.

And St. Justin, the philosopher and martyr, who lived so near the time of the apostles, says: A Moses with extended arms, upheld by Hur and Aaron, remaining on the mountain until sunset, what is he but a living Sign of the Cross?.

Insensible to the miracles of the paternal solicitude, of which they were the constant objects, the Hebrews murmur against Moses and against God. Murmurs rise to revolt, and the revolt becomes general and obstinate. The chastisement is not long delayed, and it assumes the same characteristics. Royal serpents, frightful reptiles whose venom burns like fire, fall upon the guilty and wound them with their fangs. The camp is filled with the dead and dying. At the prayer of Moses, God shows them mercy. To put the serpents to flight and heal the innumerable sick, what means will He indicate? Prayers? No. Fasts? No. An altar? An expiatory column? Nothing of all this. He orders him to make a Sign of the Cross, permanent and visible to all; a sign that each of the sick shall make in his heart, only by looking at it, and such shall be the power of this sign, that one look alone shall suffice to restore him to health. The signification of this divinely commanded sign is not doubtful. The true Sign of the Cross, the eternally living Sign of the Cross, our Lord himself, has revealed to mankind that the sign of the desert was a figure of Himself. A And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

If the limits of a letter permitted, we might read together the annals of this typical people, and you would see, my dear friend, that on all important occasions, the only ones which we know well, they had recourse to the Sign of the Cross. I will cite a few of them. In the sacrifices, the priest first raised the victim in the manner prescribed by law. He then carried it from east to west, as we learn from the Jews themselves; thus was made the Sign of the Cross. It was by the same motion that the high-priest, and even the simple priests, blessed the people after the sacrifice..

From the Jewish Church, this sign passed to the Christian. The first faithful, struck by the ancient manner of blessing with the Sign of the Cross, were easily instructed by the apostles on its mysterious signification, and naturally inclined to continue it, adding the divine words which explain it.

In the time of the prophet Ezechiel, the abominations of Jerusalem were at their height. A mysterious personage, says the prophet, received orders to traverse the city, and to mark the sign T on the foreheads of all those who mourned over the abominations of that guilty capital. By his side walked six other persons, each armed with a deadly weapon, who were commanded to kill indiscriminately all those not marked with the salutary sign..

How is it possible not to see here a striking figure of the Sign of the Cross which is made on our foreheads? Thus it is understood by the Fathers of the Church, among others, by Tertullian and St. Jerome. As, say they, A the sign Thau marked on the foreheads of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who grieved over the crimes of that city, protected them against the exterminating angel, so also the Sign of the Cross, marked on the forehead of a man, is an assurance that he shall not become the victim of the demon and the other enemies of his salvation, if he really grieve over the abomination which this sign interdicts.

The Philistines have reduced the Israelites to the most humiliating servitude. Samson begins their deliverance, but, unhappily, the strength of Israel allows himself to be surprised. They load him with chains, after having caused his eyes to be pulled out. They make a plaything of him, to amuse them at their feasts. Samson, however, meditates revenge. He plans how, with one blow, he may be able to destroy thousands of enemies.

Providence has so arranged things that it is by the Sign of the Cross that he shall consummate his design. A Placed between two of the pillars that support the edifice,@ says St. Augustine, A the Strength of Israel extends his arms in the form of a cross. In this all-powerful attitude, he shakes the pillars; they give way, he crushes his enemies; and like the Great Crucified, of whom he is the figure, he dies, buried in his own triumph.

David, overwhelmed with sorrow, is reduced to the greatest extremity in which a king can find himself. A parricidal son, revolting subjects, an unsteady throne, old age fast coming on! What does the inspired monarch do? He prays, by making the Sign of the Cross..

Solomon finishes the Temple of Jerusalem. The magnificent edifice is consecrated with a pomp worthy of the monarch. He wishes to draw down the blessings of Heaven upon the new dwelling of the God of Israel, and to obtain His favors for those who will come there to pray. What does Solomon do? He prays, by making the Sign of the Cross. A And Solomon,@ says the Sacred Text, A stood before the altar of the Lord, in the sight of the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward Heaven, and said: Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in Heaven above, or on Earth beneath. . . . Have regard to the prayer of thy servant. . . . That thy eyes may be opened on this house night and day; . . . That thou mayest hearken to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel.

To believe that the patriarchs, judges, and prophets, the kings and the seers of Israel were the only ones who knew and practiced the Sign of the Cross, would be an error. All the people knew it, and in times of public danger made religious use of it.

Sennacherib is advancing from victory to victory. The greater part of Palestine is invaded; Jerusalem itself is threatened. Behold, what that entire nation, men, women, and children, do to repulse the enemy. Like Moses, they make the Sign of the Cross; become living images of that holy sign. A And they invoked the Lord of mercies, and spreading their hands, they lifted them up to Heaven. And the Lord quickly heard them.

Another danger threatens them. Heliodorus, with a numerous band of soldiers, comes to pillage the Temple. He has already entered the exterior enclosure; yet a few moments and the sacrilege shall be consummated. The Priests lie prostrate at the foot of the altar, but nothing stops the spoliator. What do the people do? They have recourse to their traditional weapon; they pray, making the Sign of the Cross. You know the rest..

If it is incontestable that to pray with outstretched arms is one form of the Sign of the Cross, you see that from all antiquity the Jews have known and practiced it, with a mysterious instinctive feeling of its power. We shall see tomorrow if the pagans were much less instructed.


NINTH LETTER


The Sign of the Cross among pagans C Hew details of an exterior form of the Sign of the Cross among the first Christians The martyrs in the amphitheatre Etymology of the word adore. The pagans adored by making the Sign of the Cross C How they made it First manner. December 4th.

The Sign of the Cross among the pagans; such, my friend, is the subject of this letter. In order to follow to the end the traditional chain which unites the synagogue to the church, I am going to say a word to you about the Sign of the Cross among the primitive Christians. You are already aware that they made it at every instant, but are, perhaps, ignorant, that in order not to interrupt it while they were praying, they transformed themselves into Signs of the Cross. In any case, I would wager a hundred against one, that your companions know nothing of it.

What Moses, Samson, David, and the Israelites did only at intervals, our forefathers did always; you will understand the reason of this. Amalec, the Philistines, Heliodorus, were passing enemies, while the Roman giant never laid down his arms. Between our fathers and him the struggle was continual; it was carried to the extreme; it was without respite or intermission.

Under those circumstances, each became as another Moses on the Mount. Not for one day, but during three centuries did their hands remain extended towards Heaven, asking, like those of the Hebrew law-giver, victory for the martyrs in the arena, and the conversion of their persecutors.

Let us hear an eye-witness speak of their thoughts and attitude in prayer. Tertullian says:

We pray with our eyes raised toward Heaven, and our hands outstretched, because they are innocent; our heads bare, because we have nothing to blush for; without a monitor, because we pray from the heart. In this attitude we unceasingly implore that all the emperors may have a long life, a peaceful reign, a palace free from snares, a valorous army, a virtuous people, a tranquil world; in a word, for all the wishes of the man and the Cæsar..

Thus prayed, in the East and the West, men, women, children, young men, young virgins, old men, senators, matrons, the faithful of all conditions. This mysterious attitude they kept not only in their meetings in the depths of catacombs, in pleading the interests of others, but they also took it with them, when, dragged into the amphitheatre, they had to fight for themselves, under the eyes of innumerable spectators, the great combat of martyrdom. Can you, my dear friend, imagine a more affecting spectacle than that of which Eusebius gives us a description?

The persecution of Diocletian was raging with great violence in Phœnicia. One day a great number of Christians, condemned to the wild beasts, were to be seen entering the Amphitheatre. The spectators shuddered with deep emotion at the sight of that multitude of children, youths, and old men, stripped of their garments, their eyes raised to Heaven, their arms extended in the form of a Cross, standing immovable, without fear or surprise, in the midst of ravenous lions and tigers. The fear, which ought to have agitated the condemned, had passed into the souls of the spectators, and even of the judges. .

That attitude was not exceptional. Let us listen again to the same historian; none is more worthy of credit, for he was an eye-witness of what he relates. A You should have seen in the midst of the amphitheatre, says he, A a young man not yet twenty years of age, freed from his bonds, standing tranquilly, his arms extended in the form of a Cross, his eyes and heart fixed on Heaven, praying with fervor, motionless in the midst of bears and leopards, whose fury threatened instant death; then those furious beasts, ready to tear his flesh, suddenly muzzled, as it were, by a mysterious power, hastily fled away.

On account of the delicacy of the victim, the West offers us a still more affecting sight. It was in the midst of the great city of Rome. Never had such multitudes crowded the steps of the Circus. The heroine was Agnes, a noble virgin only thirteen years old. Condemned to the fire, she ascends the funeral pile.

Do you see her, says St. Ambrose, A stretching her hands towards Christ, and even in the midst of the flame erecting the victorious standard of the Lord? With hands outstretched through the flames, she offers to God the following prayer: O Thou whom we must adore, honor, and fear: Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I bless thee, because, thanks to thine only Son, I have escaped from the hands of impious men, and have passed unsullied through the impurities of the demon. And behold, moreover, that by the dew of the Holy Ghost is extinguished the fire which surrounds me; the flames are divided, and the burning heat of my pile threatens those who have enkindled it.

Such was the eloquent form of the Sign of the Cross in use among the Christians of the primitive Church, those Moseses of the new covenant. You may see another proof of this on the paintings in the Catacombs. This form has lasted a long time. I saw it practiced about thirty years ago, by some of the German people. But even if this form be in disuse among the faithful, the Church religiously preserves it. The two hundred thousand priests who every day ascend the altar, in every part of the globe, are the visible links of that traditional chain which extends from us to the Catacombs, from the Catacombs to Calvary, from Calvary to Raphidim, and then is lost in the night of time.

Let us speak of the pagans. They also made the Sign of the Cross. They made it in prayer, and, with good reason, believed it to be endued with mysterious strength of great importance. Ask your companions for the etymology of the word adore, adorare. They will not be at a loss for the answer. If this word were a creation of the Church, you might dispense yourself from asking the question, but it is found in the Latin of the Golden Age, as they say in colleges, and they, bachelors just fresh from college, ought to know it.

Analyzing it, then, we find that the infinitive verb, to adore, signifies, according to all etymologists, to bring the hand to the mouth and kiss it, manum ad os admovere. Such was the way in which the pagans honored their gods. Proofs of this abound.

A When we adore, says Pliny, A we bring our right hand to our mouth and kiss it; then we describe a circle with our body, we turn ourselves around.

Hear Minutius Felix: A Cecilius saw the statue of Serapis, and, according to the custom of the superstitious people, put his hand to his mouth and kissed it.

NOTE:  We turn ourselves around. What means this kind of adoration? By carrying the hand to the mouth, man pays the homage of his person to the divinity; by turning around, he imitates the motion of the planets, and offers to the divinity the homage of the whole world, of which the celestial bodies are the most noble portion. This manner of adoring was a part of Sabianism, or the worship of the stars, which dates back to the farthest antiquity. According to the Pythagoreans, this form had come from Numa, who prescribed the turning around; Circumage te cum deos adoras. A It is said adds Plutarch, that it is a representation of the revolution which the heavens make in their motion. This profoundly mysterious practice was wide-spread in America, before its discovery; it is still in use among the turning dervishes in the East.

 

Apuleius: A Until now Æmilianus has prayed to no god; he has frequented no temple. If he passes before a sacred place, he regards it as a crime to bring his hand to his lips to adore.

Why did this gesture express the sovereign worship, the worship of adoration? I will tell you in two words. Man is the image of God. God is entire in His Word; by Him He does all things. Like God, man is entire in his word; it is by it that he does everything. To carry the hand to the mouth is to repress the word; it is, in some sort, to be annihilated.

To do it as the pagans did, to honor the demon, was to declare themselves his vassals, his subjects, his slaves, and even to acknowledge him as God. You see that it was an enormous crime. Hence the remarkable words of Job, pleading his cause:

If I beheld the sun when it shined, and the moon advancing in brightness; and my heart in secret hath rejoiced, and I have kissed my hand with my mouth: which is a very great iniquity, and a denial against the most high God..

This mysterious gesture was so particular a sign of idolatry that, in speaking of the Israelites who had remained faithful, God said:

And I will leave me seven thousand men in Israel whose knees have not been bowed before Baal, and every mouth that hath not worshipped him, kissing the hands..

The pagans adored by carrying the hand to the mouth and kissing it: the fact is incontestable; but you will tell me that in all this you do not see the Sign of the Cross. You shall see it presently, in the manner of kissing the hand.

Look at that pagan, his knee bent to the ground, or his head bowed before his idols. Do you see him passing the thumb of his right hand under the index, and resting it on the middle finger, so as to form a cross; then devoutly kissing that cross, murmuring a few words in honor of his gods? Repeat this gesture yourself, and you will see that the Sign of the Cross could not be better formed. That such was the manner of the adoring kiss among many other pagans, we learn from Apuleius:

A multitude of citizens and strangers were attracted by the noise of the ravishing spectacle. Amazed at the admirable beauty of which they were the witnesses, they carried their right hand to their mouth, the index resting on the thumb; and by religious prayers honored it even as the divinity..0

This manner of making the Sign of the Cross is so true and so expressive, that it remains, even in our day, familiar to a great number of Christians in every country. It was not the only one known to the pagans. Such of them as were the most pious, made the Sign of the Cross by joining their hands over the breast. We find this Sign of the Cross in one of the most solemn and mysterious circumstances of their public life. I will leave your curiosity unsatisfied until tomorrow.

Restilit et pavido, faveas mihi murmure dixit

Dux mens: et simili, faveas mihi, murmure dixi.


TENTH LETTER


8econd and third way in which the Pagans made the Sign of the Cross Testimonies The Pietas Publica The Pagans acknowledged a mysterious power in the Sign of the Cross Whence came that belief  Great mystery of the moral world C Importance of the Sign of the Cross in the sight of God The Sign of the Cross in the physical world Words of the Fathers and of Plato Inconsistency of the ancient and modern Pagans Reason of the especial hatred of the demon for the Sign of the Cross December 10th


MY DEAR FREDERIC:

 

Coming out of college after ten years of Greek and Latin studies, we do not know the first word of pagan antiquity. Education continually shows us the upper side of the cards, but never the under side. What happens in France, I have reason to believe, happens also among our neighbors. Hence it comes, my dear friend, that the fact with which I am about to entertain you, will be for many a strange novelty. Here it is.

When a Roman army began to lay siege to a city, the first operation of the general, whoever he might be, whether Camillus, Fabius, Metellus, Cæsar, or Scipio, was not to dig trenches, or raise lines of circumvaliation, but to evoke the gods, the defenders of the city, and to call them into his camp. The formula of evocation is too long for a letter; you will find it in Macrobius.

Now then, in pronouncing it, the general made the Sign of the Cross twice; first as did Moses and the early Christians, and as the priest does now at the altar. With hands extended towards Heaven, he pronounced in supplication the name of Jupiter. Then, full of confidence in the efficacy of his prayer, he devoutly crossed his hands upon his breast.. Behold here the Sign of the Cross under two forms, incontestable, universal, and perfectly regular.

If this remarkable fact is generally ignored, there is another a little less so. The custom of praying with outstretched arms was familiar to the pagans of the East and West. On this point there is no difference between them, the Jews, and ourselves. Read your classics over again.

Livy says to you: A On their knees, they raised their suppliant hands to Heaven, and to the gods.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus: A Brutus, hearing of the misfortune and death of Lucretia, raised his hands to Heaven, and invoked Jupiter and all the gods.

And Virgil: A Father Anchises on the shore, his hands raised, invoked the great gods.

And Athenæus: A Darius, having heard with what regard Alexander treated his captive daughters, stretched his hands toward the sun, and begged that if he himself were not to reign, the empire might be given to Alexander.

In fine, Apuleius declares formally that this manner of praying was not an exception, or, as some young moderns would qualify it, an eccentricity, but a permanent custom. A The attitude of those who pray,@ says he, A is to raise the hands to Heaven.

An instinct, which I will call traditional, for otherwise it would have no name, taught them the value of this mysterious sign. To be able to make it at their last moments was for them an assured pledge of salvation.

A If death, says Arrian, A should surprise me in the midst of my occupations, it will be enough for me that I be able to raise my hands to Heaven.

Take notice, that he does not say: If I can fall on my knees, or strike my breast, or bow my forehead to the dust; but, If I can extend my arms in the form of a cross, and raise them towards Heaven. And why this? Ask your companions.

Ask them why the Egyptians placed the cross in their temples, prayed before that adorable sign, and looked upon it as an omen of future happiness. A When, in the time of Theodosius,@ relate the Greek historians, Socrates and Sozomen, A they were destroying the temples of the false gods, they found that of Serapis, in Egypt, full of stones marked with the Sign of the Cross. This made them say to the neophytes, that between Jesus Christ and Serapis there was something in common. They added, that among them the cross signified the future age.

Among the Romans this same instinct was transferred by a fact, of which I would be inclined to doubt, did I not have weighty proof of it in an antique medal placed before my eyes. Knowing, on the one side, the efficacy of the Sign of the Cross, which I have described, yet on the other, not being willing, like

At Pater Anchises, passis de littare palmis

Numina magna vocat.

Moses or the early Christians, to remain with their arms in the form of a cross during all their prayers, what did they do?

They imagined a goddess, commissioned to intercede continually for the republic, and represented her in the attitude of Moses on the Mount. Therefore in Rome, in the center of the Forum olitorium, where are now to be seen the ruins of the theatre of Marcellus, was raised the statue of the goddess called Pietas publica. She is represented standing, with her arms outstretched in the form of a cross, absolutely like Moses on the Mount, or the early Christians in the Catacombs. She has, moreover, at her left an altar, on which burns incense, the symbol of prayer..

On the impetratory and adoring value of the Sign of the Cross, the far East agreed with the West, the Chinese with the Romans.

Would you believe that Hien Yuen, an emperor of China, in times so ancient as to be almost mythological, had, like Plato, foreseen the mystery of the Cross?

A To honor the Most High, that ancient emperor joined two pieces of wood together, one straight, the other transverse.

Thus, of the seven ways of making the Sign of the Cross, three were known to the pagans, and practiced religiously by them, particularly on important occasions. All this is very well, you will say, but did they know what they were doing? Was it not a sign purely arbitrary, and therefore insignificant, from which we can draw no conclusions?

That the pagans understood the Sign of the Cross as we do is what I would not pretend to say. It was, with them, as with the figures among the Jews. In their eyes it had a real signification, a considerable value, although more or less mysterious, according to the places, times, and persons.

You know of letters written with sympathetic ink. At first sight, the characters, although really traced, are scarcely apparent, but when brought near the fire, they immediately appear, and are perfectly legible. Such was the Sign of the Cross among the pagans. When struck with the rays of evangelical light, this clare-obscure no more changed its nature than did the figures of the Old Testament, but like them it became intelligible to all; it discovered itself, it spoke.

To believe that among the pagans this sign was an arbitrary one is a supposition that falls of itself. Anything universal is never arbitrary; the Sign of the Cross less so than anything else. Here, my dear Frederic, we touch upon one of the most profound mysteries of the moral order.

Forget not that my present aim is to show in the Sign of the Cross a treasure that enriches us. To be enriched, man must ask, and God must give. In order that God may hear man, man must be agreeable in the sight of God: Deus peccatores non exaudi. No one is pleasing to God but His Son, and those who are like Him.

Now, the Son of God, the only Mediator between God and man, is a living Sign of the Cross, a sign eternally living, from the beginning of the world: Agnus occisus ab origine mundi. He is the great Crucified, and the great Crucified is the new Adam, the type of mankind. In order to be agreeable to God, it is necessary that man should resemble his Divine Model, and be crucified; be a living Sign of the Cross.

Such, like that of the Word Himself, is his destiny upon Earth. As a beggar, this is principally the position he must take when he presents himself before God to ask for alms.

Providence has not wished that he should be ignorant of this condition necessary for success. Man has no more lost the knowledge of the instrument of his redemption than of his fall, and his hope in the Redeemer. Hence the existence and practice of the Sign of the Cross in prayer, among all nations, from the beginning of ages even to our own day. God has engraven the instinct of the Sign of the Cross on the heart of man. In order to keep ever-present, even to his corporal eyes, the necessity of this salutary sign, and to make him understand the sovereign part which it must play in the moral world, the Creator has willed that, in the material world, everything should be done by this sign, that all in it should show this necessary action and reproduce its image.

Listen to men who had eyes to see.

A It is exceedingly remarkable, says Gretzer, A that, from the very beginning of the world, God has been pleased to keep the figure of the Cross continually before the eyes of mankind, and has so organized things that man can scarcely do anything without the intervention of the Sign of the Cross.

Gretzer is the hundredth echo of traditional philosophy. Listen to others. Say they:

Look, at everything in the world, and see if all is not governed and put in motion by the Sign of the Cross. The bird that flies in the air, the man that swims in the water, or that offers a prayer, makes the Sign of the Cross, and can act only by it.

To gain a fortune and to seek riches at the extremity of the world, the navigator needs a ship; the ship cannot sail without a mast, and the mast and the sail-yards form the Cross; without it no government is possible, no fortune is to be hoped for. The husbandman seeks food from the Earth, the food of the rich and of kings. To obtain it, he must have a plough. The plough cannot open the Earth unless it be armed with the ploughshare, and the plough with the ploughshare forms the Cross..

If this sign is the means by which man acts over nature, it is also the instrument of his actions over his fellow-creatures. In battle, is it not the sight of the flag that animates the soldiers? What do we see on the Roman Cantabra and Siparia of the standards, if not a Cross? Both one and the other were gilded lances, surmounted with a piece of wood placed horizontally, from which depended a veil of purple and gold. The eagles with outspread wings placed on the top of the lances, and the other military insignia always surmounted by two extended wings, invariably remind us of the Sign of the Cross.

The trophies and monuments of victories gained always formed a Cross. The religion of the Romans was all warlike; they adored their standards, swore by their standards, preferred them to all their gods; and all their standards were crosses: Omnes illi imaginum suggestus insignes monilia crucium sunt..

Therefore when Constantine wished to perpetuate the remembrance of the Cross by which he had vanquished, he was not obliged to change the imperial standard; but contented himself with causing the cipher of Christ to be engraven on it, as if it was only necessary to name Him of whom he had had the vision, and not the object of that vision.

Man, in his turn, is distinguished exteriorly from beasts, because he can stand and extend his arms; and man, standing in this posture, forms the Cross. We are also commanded to pray in this attitude, to the end that our members themselves should proclaim the Passion of the Lord. When our soul and body, each after its manner, confess Jesus on the Cross, then it is that our prayers are more speedily granted.

Heaven itself is disposed in the form of the Cross. What do the four cardinal points represent, if not the four arms of the Cross, and the universality of its salutary virtue?

The whole creation bears the impress of the Cross. Has not Plato himself written that the Power nearest to the first God is extended over the world in the form of a Cross?

Hence the peremptory response of Minutius Felix to the pagans who reproached the Christians for making the Sign of the Cross. A Is not the cross everywhere?@ said he to them. A Your ensigns, your banners, the standards of your camps, your trophies C what are they, if not crosses gilded and ornamented? Do not you, as well as we, pray with extended arms? In that solemn attitude do you not use formulas by which you proclaim one only God? Do you not, then, resemble the Christians, who adore one only God, and have the courage to confess their faith in the midst of torments, with their arms extended in the form of a Cross?

A Between you and us what difference is there, when with your arms outstretched in the form of a cross, you say: > Great God, true God, if God wishes?= Is this the natural language of the pagan, or rather the prayer of the Christian? Then either the Sign of the Cross is the foundation of natural reason, or it serves as the basis of your religion.

A Why, then, added some other apologists, A why do you persecute it?@ And I also, my dear Frederic, can address the same question to the modern pagans. Why do you persecute the Sign of the Cross? Why are you ashamed of it? Why do you pursue with your sarcasms those who have the courage to make it? The answer is the same today as in former times. Satan, the great ape of God, put himself in competition with the Sign of the Cross; he permitted the pagans to make it for his own profit. The perfidious wretch! He was glad to see men employ for his worship and their own loss, even that sign destined for the adoration of the true God, and their salvation. As to the Christians, it was otherwise. By them the Sign of the Cross was brought back to its true destination. It honored the true God, and, in particular, the Incarnate Word, the object of the personal hatred of Satan, from whom He rescued man, his victim; then in the Christian, the Sign of the Cross became an object of raillery, a crime deserving of death. Nothing has changed. Therefore in our day the Sign of the Cross is an object of mockery with the slaves of Satan; but when employed in profane uses or occult practices, it provokes neither their hatred nor sarcasm. Whence come, then, among the wicked of every age, those dispositions, in appearance so contradictory, of love and hatred, of respect and contempt for this adorable sign? Tertullian answers:

From Satan himself. Spirit of lies, it is his part to alter truth, and turn the most holy things to the profit of idols. He baptizes his faithful, assuring them that water will remit their sins; in this way he initiates into the worship of Mithras. He marks his soldiers on the forehead. He celebrates the oblation of the bread. He promises resurrection, and a crown bought by the sword.

What do I say? He has a sovereign pontiff to whom he forbids a second marriage. He has his virgins; he has his chaste ones. If we examine in detail the superstitions established by Numa, the sacerdotal offices, the insignia, the privileges, the order and detail of the sacrifices, the sacred utensils, even the vessels used for the sacrifices, all the objects employed for expiations and prayers; is it not manifest that the Demon, the robber of Moses, has counterfeited all these? And since the gospel, the imitation still continues..

Satan goes still further. Knowing all the power of the Sign of the Cross, he has wished to make of it a personal symbol, that by this substitution he may engross all the homage due from the world to the Crucified God. Says Firmicus Maternus:

Instructed by the prophetic oracles, the implacable enemy of mankind has made that which was established for the salvation of the world serve as the instrument of iniquity. What are those horns which he boasts of having? The caricature of those of which the inspired prophet of God speaks, and which you, Satan, believe you can adapt to your hideous figure. How can you seek in them for ornament and glory? Those horns are but the figure of the venerable Sign of the Cross..

Now the forehead marked with the Sign of the Cross makes him shudder with rage. He finds no torments cruel enough to punish him who bears the image of the Incarnate Word. See, dear friend, how he treats our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, and sisters, the martyrs of all times and all countries. Sometimes he causes the skin to be torn off their foreheads, and on the naked bones to be stamped with a red hot iron the marks of ignominy. Again, he causes others to be cloven through in the form of a cross; or to be compressed with ropes until they are entirely deformed; or to be beaten with ox= s sinews until they are rendered unrecognizable.

A great lesson! Let this hatred of Satan for the Sign of the Cross be the measure of our love for the adorable sign, and our confidence in it.

You shall see, tomorrow, that it has other claims on these two sentiments.


ELEVENTH LETTER.


The Sign of the Cross is a treasure that enriches us, because it is a prayer: proofs  A powerful prayer: proofs A universal prayer: proofs  It supplies all our wants For his soul man needs lights The Sign of the Cross obtains them: proofs Examples of the Martyrs December 6th.


MY DEAR FREDERIC:

 

The Sign of the Cross is a treasure which enriches us; this is one of the reasons of its being. It enriches us, because it is an excellent prayer. This is, my dear friend, as you have not forgotten, the point of doctrine we have just established.

Half the proof has already been given. It is in the antiquity, the universality, the perpetuity of the Sign of the Cross. In the midst of the shipwreck in which the idolatrous world allowed so many primitive revelations to be lost or damaged, we see the Sign of the Cross floating on the surface. What says this strange fact, new to you, incomprehensible to a great number, but most reasonable to the Christian accustomed to reflect? It speaks eloquently of the high utility of the Sign of the Cross for man, because it tells its powerful efficacy over the heart of God. From reasoning, let us proceed to facts.

The Sign of the Cross is a prayer; a powerful, universal prayer.

It is a prayer. What is a man who prays? He is one who confesses his indigence before God; his intellectual, moral, and material indigence. He is a beggar at the rich man= s door. Now, the beggar prays with his voice, but more eloquently by his pale and emaciated face, by his infirmities, his tattered clothes and his attitude. Thus prayed on the Cross the adorable Mendicant of Calvary. In that state, the Son of God was more than ever the object of the infinite complacency of His Father. He Himself tells us that that eloquent prayer, more in action than in words, was the powerful lever which drew all things to Him..

What does a man do when he forms the Sign of the Cross, either with his hand, or by extending his arms? He impresses upon himself the image of the

Divine Mendicant; he identifies himself with Him. It is Jacob clothing himself with the garments of Esau, that he may obtain the paternal benediction. What does he say to God? By this attitude of faith, humility, and devotedness, he says: A Behold in me your Christ, respice in faciem Christi tui;@ a prayer more eloquent than all the words that could be spoken. A It ascends, says St. Ambrose, A and the alms descend. Ascendit deprecatio et descendit Dei miseratio.

Such is the Sign of the Cross, even without a formula. It does not speak, yet it says all. It is a powerful prayer. When an agent of the authorities, a commissary of police, mayor, or gendarme, lays his hand upon a culprit, he says: A I arrest you in the name of the law.@ In the words, A In the name of the law,@ the guilty man sees the authority of his country, the strength of the army, the judges, the king himself; and he allows himself to be taken.

When, then, man, threatened by danger, assailed by doubts, persecuted by temptation, a prey to suffering and sickness, pronounces these words of solemn authority, A In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and while pronouncing them makes the sign by which the world has been redeemed, and Hell vanquished, how can you explain the continued resistance of evil? Has not man fulfilled all the conditions of success? Is not God, in some way, obliged to intervene, and by His intervention, to glorify His name and the power of His Christ?

The particular efficacy of the Sign of the Cross has never been doubted, either by the Church, or by Christian generations. The gravest theologians teach even that the Sign of the Cross operates of itself, and independently of him who makes it. They give us several proofs: I will cite only two.

The first is the custom of incessantly repeating the Sign of the Cross. If it did not produce, say they, its effects of itself, Christians would have no reason for making use of it so frequently. What good would it do to have recourse to it, when a motion of the soul, or any good action whatsoever, would suffice to obtain or realize what they hope to obtain or realize by the Sign of the Cross?

The second rests on facts celebrated in history and of incontestable authenticity: I will relate a few.

The first, is that of Julian the Apostate. A deserter from the true God, that emperor becomes, by an inevitable conclusion, an adorer of the Demon. To learn the secrets of the future, he seeks throughout Greece for men in communication with the Evil Spirit. A sorcerer presents himself, who promises to satisfy his curiosity. Julian is conducted into a temple of the idols. The conjurations are pronounced, and the emperor sees himself surrounded by= demons, whose appearance fills him with terror.

By a gesture of thoughtless fear, he makes the Sign of the Cross, and the demons disappear. The sorcerer complains, and repeats his incantations. The demons reappear. Julian forgets himself again and, at the Sign of the Cross, the spirits of darkness again take flight..

This fact, related by St. Gregory Nazianzen, Theodoret, and other Fathers of the Church, caused great excitement in the East.

The second is better known in the West. We have it from Pope Saint Gregory. The illustrious pontiff commences his relation by the following words.

The fact which I am about to relate is not doubtful, for it had almost as many witnesses as the town of Fondi numbered inhabitants..

A Jew, journeying from Campania to Rome by the Appian Way, arrived at the small town of Fondi. It being very late, he could find no lodging, and went to pass the night in an old temple of Apollo. He felt afraid of that ancient dwelling of the demons, and although not a Christian, took care to arm himself with the Sign of the Cross.

Frightened at his solitude, he remained awake until midnight. Suddenly he saw a troop of demons, who seemed to be coming to pay homage to their chief; who was seated at the head of the temple. As they presented themselves, he interrogated each in particular as to what he had done to lead men into sin. All revealed to him their artifices. In the midst of the discourse one advanced, who related that he had succeeded in making the venerable bishop of the city feel the sting of a terrible temptation.

A Until now, said he, A my labor was in vain, but last evening I succeeded in making him give a slight tap on the shoulder of the holy woman employed in his house.

A Continue, answered the ancient enemy of mankind, A continue and finish what you have begun, and so great a victory shall bring you an extraordinary reward.

Meanwhile, the Jew, the witness of the spectacle, could scarcely breathe. In order to make him die of fear, the president of the infernal assembly, knowing of his presence, ordered them to inform him who was that rash man who had dared to take shelter in the temple. The evil spirits approached, but seeing him marked with the Sign of the Cross, cried out: Woe! woe! an empty vessel, sealed! Væ, væ! vas vacuum el signaturn!= At those words, the infernal troop disappeared.

The Jew, on his side, hastened to depart. He hurried to the church, where he found the venerable bishop. Calling him aside, he related all that had happened to him, and how he had learned of the slight tap given to his servant, and what was the project of the demon. Surprised beyond measure, the bishop immediately dismissed her, and from that time forbade all persons of the other sex to enter his house. He consecrated the old temple of Apollo in honor of St Andrew, and the Jew was converted..

Let us relate another fact. We read, in the Ecclesiastical History of Nicephorus, that under the emperor Mauritius, Chosroes II, king of Persia, sent an embassy to Constantinople, and that all the Persians who composed it had the Sign of the Cross marked on their foreheads.

The emperor asked them why it was that they bore a sign in which they did not believe. Said they:

What you see on our foreheads is the testimony of a signal favor which we received some time ago. A pestilence was ravaging our country, and some Christians advised us to mark the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, as a preservative against it. We believed them, and have been saved, although nearly all our families were cut off by the scourge..

After these facts naturally follows the reflection of the great Bishop of Hippo, which seems decisive in favor of the teachings of theologians. Say he:

We must not be surprised at the power of the Sign of the Cross when it is made by good Christians, since it has so much strength when employed by strangers, who do not believe in it, and this happens for the glory of the great King..

That we may remain within the limits of orthodoxy, we must, however, add that the Sign of the Cross does not operate of itself, purely and simply, but in as much as is useful for our salvation and that of others. It is the same with it as with certain other practices, such as, for example, exorcisms, to which no divine promise attaches effects infallible and unconditional.

I add, that the piety of him who makes the Sign of the Cross contributes to its efficacy. This sign is a silent invocation of Jesus Crucified; consequently, it is so much the more efficacious as it is made with greater fervor. Again, the invocation with the heart or the mouth is so much the more likely to obtain its effect, as the Christian who makes it is more virtuous and more agreeable to the Lord..

It is a universal prayer. In one sense the Sign of the Cross may say, like our Savior Himself: A All power has been given to me in Heaven and on Earth.@ Here, more than anywhere else, we must, my dear Frederic, reason with facts. They are so numerous that the only difficulty is to choose among them. All, and each in its manner, proclaim on one side the faith of our ancestors, and on the other, the empire of the Sign of the Cross over the visible and invisible worlds. It provides for all the wants of both soul and body.

For his soul, man has need of lights; the Sign of the Cross obtains them. St. Porphyius, Bishop of Gaza, is obliged to dispute with a Manichean woman. In order to dispel, by the clearness of his reasoning, the darkness with which the unfortunate woman is surrounded, he makes the Sign of the Cross, and light shines on that darkened intellect.

Julian, the crowned sophist, provokes a controversy with Cæsarius, brother of St. Gregory Nazianzen. The generous athlete enters the lists armed with the Sign of the Cross. To an enemy perfect in that art of warfare, and skilful in his manner of reasoning, he opposes the standard of the Word, and the spirit of lies is caught in his own snares..

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, so powerful in words and deeds, orders recourse to be had to the Sign of the Cross every time that he is to engage in combat with the pagans, and he assures them that they shall be reduced to silence.. In the temporal order, no less than in the spiritual, divine lights are necessary to man; they also are obtained by the Sign of the Cross. The emperors of the East, the successors of Constantine, when they had to speak before the Senate, always began by the Sign of the Cross.

As we have already seen, St. Louis, before discussing in council the affairs of his kingdom, always conformed himself to this most ancient and religious practice.

If, after the example of the greatest princes who have governed the world, the emperors and kings of the nineteenth century should have recourse to the Sign of the Cross, do you think that affairs should be in a worse state than they are? As for me, I am as convinced as I am of my own existence, that they would be much better.

Are not those who govern now as much in need of light as those who governed in former times? Do they pretend to find it elsewhere than in Him who is its source? Do they know of a means more certain to invoke Him with success? Do not all ages bear witness to its efficacy? Does not the Church, which ought to be their oracle, continue to proclaim it? Is there a council, a conclave, or a religious assembly that is not begun with the Sign of the Cross? Do the Catholic priests, faithful inheritors of tradition, ever speak from the pulpit without being armed with this sign of strength and light? In this they observe the precept of the ancient Fathers.

A Make the Sign of the Cross, says St. Cyril of Jerusalem,  and you shall speak; Fac hoc signum et loqueris.

What I have said of kings, my dear friend, must be said of all those who are charged with teaching others.

Is not the Incarnate Word the God of science and of all sciences, the Professor of professors, the Master of masters?

If the Sign of the Cross presided over all the lessons that are now given, over all the books that are now printed, do you think we would be inundated, as we are, with errors, sophistry, false ideas, and incoherent systems, whose incontestable result is to cause the modern world to sink again into that intellectual darkness from which Christianity has drawn it?

For his soul, man needs strength: the Sign of the Cross is the fruitful source of it. Look at your illustrious ancestors, the martyrs. From what did they seek the courage to triumph in their heroic combats? From the Sign of the Cross. Generals of armies, centurions, soldiers, magistrates, senators, patricians, and plebeians, children and aged men, matrons and .young virgins, all were careful, when descending into the arena, to cover themselves with this invincible armor: insuperabili christianorurn armatura.

Come with me; I will name a few to you. In Cæsarea, see that generous martyr, who walks to the place of execution surrounded by an immense concourse of people. It is the centurion Gordius. See him, calm and collected, arming his forehead with the Sign of the Cross.

What is that town in Armenia, situated in the midst of snows, and on the borders of a frozen lake? It is Sebaste. Behold, coming here in the evening, forty men, bound with cords, and stripped of their garments, who are being dragged to the midst of the lake, condemned to pass the night there. Who are they? Forty veterans of the army of Licinius. A superhuman force of resistance is so much the more necessary, because on the shore, warm baths are prepared for those who will apostatize. They make the Sign of the Cross, and an heroic death comes to crown their courage.

We have seen the young Agnes as a living Sign of the Cross amidst the flames. Behold other Christian virgins, born like her in the Golden Age of the martyrs. The first is St. Thecla, illustrious by her birth, more illustrious by her faith. The executioners have seized upon her; they conduct her to the funeral pile; she mounts it with a firm step, makes the Sign of the Cross, and remains calm and tranquil in the midst of the flames. At the same moment, the rain descends in torrents, the flames are extinguished; and, like the children of Babylon, the young heroine comes forth from the fire without one hair of her head being injured.

The second is St. Euphemia, no less celebrated than the first. Upon the orders of the judge, the instruments of torture are made ready in an instant. The young virgin is about to be stretched on the wheel: she makes the Sign of the Cross, and advances towards the frightful engine, bristling with iron spikes; she gazes on it without any terror, and by that glance, causes it to fly into fragments.

Look again. We stand in one of the Roman prætoriums, so often crimsoned with the blood of our fathers, so often the witnesses of their sublime answers and their heroic constancy. It is during the persecutions of Decius; you know that sanguinary emperor, that execrable animal, as Lactantius calls him: execrabile animal Decius. Before the judge stands a band of Christians. The accuser comes, according to custom, to charge them with all sorts of crimes. They are already condemned; they know it. What do they do? Raising their eyes to Heaven they make the Sign of the Cross, and say to the proconsul, A You shall see that we are neither cowardly nor faint-hearted. Were I to continue this list, I should have to cause the innumerable army of martyrs to pass before you in review.

There is not one of those valorous soldiers of the Crucified who, in going to combat, did not bear the standard of his King. Let it suffice to name a few. St. Julian and St. Pontian, St. Constant and St. Crescent, St. Isidore, St. Nazarius and St. Celsus, St. Maximinus, St. Alexander, St. Sophia and her three daughters, St. Paul and St. Juliana, St. Cyprian and St. Justina.

Taken from all countries and all conditions, they bear witness that it was a universal custom among the martyrs to arm themselves with that sign of strength, before entering the lists with men, with beasts, or with the elements.

But better still; fearing that the weight of the chains would prevent them from forming the Sign of the Cross, they ask the Christians, their brethren, or the priests, their fathers, to arm them with the victorious sign. Corribonus, converted to the faith by the martyr St. Eleutherius, goes himself into the amphitheatre to seek the crown of martyrdom.

A Pray for me, says he to his father in Jesus Christ, and arm me with the Sign of the Cross, the same with which you have armed Felix the general.

Glyceria, the noble daughter of a father thrice consul, is seized and cast into a narrow prison. The first act she performs, on seeing herself in the hands of her enemies, is to beg the holy priest, Philocratus, to make the Sign of the Cross on her forehead. The priest grants her desire, saying, A May this sign of the Crucified fulfill all your desires.@ . 0 They are all accomplished.

The young heroine descends into the amphitheatre. At the moment she is about to gather the palm of victory, she turns towards the Christians, who mingle with the crowd, and says with all the spirit of a warrior about to die for his flag:

Brethren, sisters, children, fathers, and all you who hold to me the place of a mother, beware; watch over yourselves, and consider well who is the Emperor whose mark and sign is engraved on our foreheads.

You have heard it; in the Sign of the Cross all the martyrs sought for strength. And would they have looked for strength from a nonentity? Would the great Emperor, for whom they died, have allowed them to remain in an incurable illusion? If any one believes this, let him give his proofs.

I shall write soon again.


TWELFTH LETTER.


Perpetual necessity of the Sign of the Cross to obtain strength C Its recommendation and practice by the chiefs of the spiritual combat C The Sign of the Cross in temptations C The Sign of the Cross at death C Examples of the martyrs C Examples of true Christians dying a natural death C The dying caused the Sign of the Cross to be made on them by their brethren December 7th.

 

MY DEAR FREDERIC:


The Sign of the Cross has lost nothing of its power or necessity. It is true that the tryants are dead, and the amphitheatres in ruins. The Sign of the Cross has vanquished the one and overthrown the other. If the second are not rebuilt, the first, from time to time, arise from their graves. The race of Neros shall never be extinct; the most formidable is yet to come. With ancient fury, those who have appeared since the Cæsars have decimated the Christians; that other race equally immortal, that race devoted to death, as Tertullian says, expeditum morti genus. What they did yesterday in the West, they do today in the East; they will do again tomorrow wherever they shall reign.

Advice to combatants: C let no one forget where is the source of strength.

Until that time, remember, dear friend, that peace has also her martyrs, habet et pax martyres suos. Who is the man who does not carry within himself one or more Neros? Is there one day of his rational life, or even hour, in which he has not to watch and to fight? What do I say? Twenty times a day, seducing objects present themselves before him, evil thoughts importune his mind, rebellious senses solicit his heart to commit the basest treasons. O! how greatly is he in need of strength!

Where shall he find it? In the Sign of the Cross. The testimony of ages, the experience of both veterans and young soldiers, attest to-day, as they did yesterday, the sovereign power of the Sign of the Cross to dissipate seductive charms, expel evil thoughts, and repress the motions of concupiscence.

Listen to Prudentius, the poet of the martyrs, who knew both the details of their triumphs and the secret of their victories.

When, at the call of sleep, you go to your chaste bed, make the Sign of the Cross on your forehead and heart.

The Cross shall preserve you from all sin; before it shall fly the powers of darkness; the soul, sanctified by this sign, cannot waver..

Hear also those generals of the eternal combat, those great geniuses and great saints, consummate in the art of spiritual warfare, which is called asceticism; they all, with one voice, recommend Christian soldiers to make use of the Sign of the Cross.

A Do you feel your heart inflamed?@ says St. Chrysostom. A Make the Sign of the Cross on your breast, and your anger shall be dissipated like smoke.

And St. Augustine: Does Amalec, your enemy, try to bar the way and hinder you from advancing? Make the Sign of the Cross, and he shall be vanquished.

And Mark, the great servant of God, who foretold to the emperor Leo the hour of his death: 

I have learned, by my own experience, that the Sign of the Cross appeases interior troubles, and procures the health of the soul. As soon as the Sign of the Cross is made, grace operates; all is appeased, the flesh as well as the heart..

St. Maximus of Turin: 

It is from the Sign of the Cross we must expect the cure of all our wounds. If the venom of avarice be diffused through our veins, let us make the Sign of the Cross, and the venom shall be expelled.

If the scorpion of voluptuousness sting us, let us have recourse to the same means, and we shall be healed.

If grossly terrestrial thoughts seek to defile us, let us again have recourse to the Sign of the Cross, and we shall live the divine life..

St. Bernard: 

Who is the man so completely master of his thoughts as never to have impure ones? But it is necessary to repress their attacks immediately, that we may vanquish the enemy there where he hoped to triumph. The infallible means of success is to make the Sign of the Cross..

St. Peter Damian: 

If you feel a bad thought arise in your mind, immediately make the Sign of the Cross with your thumb, and be assured that it shall be dissipated..

The pious Ecberth: 

Nothing is more efficacious than the Sign of the Cross to dissipate temptations, even the most shameful..

To sum up all those testimonies: Whatever may be the temptations that oppress us, concludes St. Gregory of Tours, A we must repulse them. For this end, we should make, not carelessly, but courageously, the Sign of the Cross, either on our forehead or our breast.

If it were necessary, one thousand facts could be given to confirm what you have just heard. One will suffice. It is a revelation with which a fervent religious, named Patroclus, was favored, and by which God showed him the sovereign power of the Sign of the Cross against temptation.

One day, the Demon, transforming himself into an angel of light, appeared to the venerable abbot. He tried to persuade him, with artful words, to abandon his solitude and return to the world. But the man of God, feeling a pestilential fire coursing through his veins, prostrated himself in prayer, and begged God to make him accomplish His holy will. His prayer was heard. An angel appeared to him and said: A If you desire to know the world, ascend this column, and see what it is.

Being ravished into an ecstasy, the pious solitary believed he saw before him a column of prodigious height. He ascended it, and beheld homicides, thefts, massacres, fornications, and all the enormous crimes of the universe. A Alas!@ exclaimed he, as he descended, A alas, my Lord, do not permit that I should ever return to the midst of so many abominations.

The angel answered:

Cease then to regret the world, lest you perish with it.

Go, rather, into your oratory, to pray the Lord that you may find support in the midst of the trials of your pilgrimage.

He obeyed, and there found the Sign of the Cross engraved on a brick. He understood the gift of God, and knew that that sign was an impregnable fortress against temptation.

A martyr of war, or a martyr of peace; such is man during his life. What is he in death? Look at that sick man, a prey to pain, abandoned by everybody, or surrounded by parents and friends who are utterly powerless. Behind him, time, which flies; before him, eternity, which advances, and into which he finds himself passing, without any human power being able to retard the moment of his departure, or mitigate the anguish of the journey. That sick man is you, my dear friend; it is I, it is every man, rich or poor, subject or monarch. If, during the warfare of life, we stand in need of light, strength, consolation, and hope; tell me, is not our need a thousand times greater in the decisive struggle of death? Well! the Sign of the Cross supplies all. Under this new point of view, how dear was it to our ancestors, and how dear ought it to be to us!

As the martyrs, when going to their last combat, failed not to fortify themselves with the Sign of the Cross, so the true Christians of every age have had incessant recourse to the same sign, to alleviate their sufferings and sanctify their deaths. I will cite a few examples.

Speaking of his beloved sister, St. Macrina, whom he himself assisted in her last moments, St. Gregory of Nyssa, writes as follows:

A Lord, said she, in order to put the enemy to flight, and to protect the lives of those who fear thee, Thou hast given them the Sign of the Cross. In pronouncing these words, she formed the adorable sign on her eyes, her lips, and her heart.

His illustrious brother, St. Gregory Nazianzen, defying the Demon, said to him: A If you dare to attack me at the moment of my death, beware: for I shall put you shamefully to flight by the Sign of the Cross.

Instead of making it with the hand, the early Christians very frequently, when dying, extended their arms. This is what they called A The evening sacrifice, sacrificium vespertinum. To this manner of making the Sign of the Cross, Arnobius applies the words of the Psalmist, A The lifting up of my hands is my evening sacrifice, and says:

May such be our evening sacrifice, I mean that of the evening of our lives, when we are really about to offer the evening sacrifice; and may our attention be directed to raise our hands in the form of a Cross, that we may rejoice in the Savior Jesus, at the moment that we go to Him..3

It was in the like attitude that St. Paul, the patriarch of the desert, died, and in which he was found by St. Anthony.

The same spectacle was presented by St. Pachomius. A Being at the point of death, says the author of his life, A he armed himself with the Sign of the Cross; beheld with great joy the angel of the Lord approaching him, and gave up his holy soul to God.

In the same manner died St. Ambrose.

A On the last day of his life, writes the priest Paulinus, A from about the eleventh hour until he gave up his holy soul to God, he prayed with his arms extended in the form of a Cross.

From Milan let us proceed to Constantinople. Behold another bishop at the point of death. A St. Eutychius, says his historian, A was seized with a violent fever towards the middle of the night. He remained in that state for seven days, never ceasing to pray and to fortify himself with the Sign of the Cross.

Let us end our journey by passing through France; let us assist at the deaths of some of her kings. Let us stop for a moment at Aix-la-chapelle, and behold the last moments of the great emperor. A The next day being come, says a bishop, an eye-witness, A Charlemagne, knowing what he ought to do, extended his right hand, and as well as he could made the Sign of the Cross on his forehead, his breast, and every part of his body.Thus did that great man before his death.

Look at his son, Louis the Pious.

Having arranged all his affairs, and made his last requests, he ordered that the evening office should be recited near him, and a relic of the true Cross be placed upon his breast. During that time he himself, as much as his strength allowed, made the Sign of the Cross on his forehead and his heart. When he became too weak, he begged his brother to continue to do it for him.

Let us come to one of his successors, the most worthy of the throne, the good King Robert. During the last days of his life, he never ceased, both by voice and gesture, to call the saints of Heaven to his aid, and continually fortified himself by making the Sign of the Cross on his forehead, eyes, nostrils, lips, throat, and ears, in memory of the Incarnation of Our Lord, of His Nativity, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and of the Holy Ghost. Such had been, during his life, the custom of this prince, who was never wilfully without having holy water with him.

Let us cite another, Louis le Gros. Seeing himself near death, he caused a carpet to be laid on the ground, and ashes to be spread over it in the form of a Cross. Being laid by his officers upon that bed, which reminded him of that of the King of Calvary, the virtuous monarch continued to make the Sign of the Cross even to his last breath.

For a king to die like a God; is there anything degrading in this? What degrades a man is to die without understanding death, to die with the insensibility of a beast.

You have seen that the martyrs, fearing that when dying they should not be able to make the Sign of the Cross themselves, begged their Christian brethren to make it for them. The same was done by our ancestors who died a natural death. Besides the example of Louis le Debonnaire, of whom you have just read, I will remind you of a few others. Taken from the first ages, they will show the perpetuity of the tradition.

St. Zenobius, the intimate friend of St. Ambrose, being on the point of terminating his beautiful life by a precious death, raised his hand and made the Sign of the Cross on every person around him. Then he begged the bishops to make on him, with their consecrated hands, the sign of strength, hope, and salvation.

From the deathbed of a priest, let us pass to that of one of the faithful. Behold here a devoted daughter, who assists her tender, her illustrious mother.

In our day the greater number content themselves with bestowing on their dearest friends only material cares. They would reproach themselves, were they to omit the least prescription of the physician. But what of Christian assistance? What of the prescription of the Divine Physician, and of our Mother, the Church? With what care do they attend to those? To the most devoted bodily care, our ancestors, far wiser and better than we, added the remedies of the soul.

Then in Bethlehem, the illustrious daughter of Fabius, St. Paula, lies at the point of death. By her bedside is Eustochium, worthy daughter of her mother.

How is that angel of tenderness occupied?

A She never ceased, says St. Jerome, A to form the Sign of the Cross on the lips and breast of her mother, endeavoring to alleviate her sufferings by the impression of that consoling sign.

You see, then, that both in life and death, the Sign of the Cross was constantly employed by our ancestors to obtain for themselves, and others, light, strength, resignation, courage, and hope. A What a great thing, then, is the Sign of the Cross !A cries out, with good reason, one who was witness to its admirable effects. Magna res signum crucis. Tomorrow we shall see its efficacy in a new order of things.


THIRTEENTH LETTER.


Effects of the Sign of the Cross in the temporal order. It cures all diseases, and removes whatever can harm us It gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, the use of their limbs to the lame and paralyzed; cures other maladies, and restores life to the dead December 8th.

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